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“First, Do No Harm”: How Sustainable Hospitals Can Elevate Public Health

Green Hospitals

The health of our planet and the people who live on it are impossible to separate from one another. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about a quarter of the diseases and deaths in the world are due to environmental factors, costing at least 13 million lives a year.

Given the increasing impacts of climate change and pollution, the environmental consequences on human health are only growing. On the other hand, the facilities that treat these issues keep contributing to the problem: Hospitals use more resources and produce more waste materials than most other commercial buildings of equivalent size. Its ecological footprint is so large that if healthcare were a country, it would be the 5th-largest emitter globally, accounting for more than aviation or the shipping industry.

Hence, it’s imperative that we re-think and re-design our healthcare facilities to not add to the burden on our planet and thus on public health.

What’s a Green Hospital?

A sustainable hospital is also known as a “green hospital”. The concept grew considerably in the last decades in healthcare to counter the conundrum of public health vs. the environment.

The Office of the Federal Environmental Executive describes a green or sustainable building as “the practice of increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use energy, water, and materials, and reducing building impacts on human health and the environment, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal—the complete building life cycle”.

Therefore, a green hospital has taken tangible steps to create structures and processes to eliminate its environmental impact throughout its life cycle to promote public health.

Here are four strategies hospitals and healthcare facilities can adopt to become greener and more sustainable, fulfilling the first condition of practicing medicine: “Do no harm.”

How Can a Hospital Become More Sustainable?

Energy Conservation

Ospedali sostenibili

Hospitals tend to be intense energy consumers and are active 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This hyper-active energy usage also likely means there are many opportunities in a hospital for reducing and conserving it.

While every hospital has unique needs, controlling the light and the room temperature is a universally cost-efficient solution. Some of the most crucial energy conservation strategies in a healthcare facility include making the most of daylight and installing digitized access solutions to minimize the air leak and maintaining them periodically.

Ideally, hospitals must qualify for a LEED certificate designed to encourage designers or owners to add sustainable features to their buildings.

Efficient Waste Management

Gestione efficiente dei rifiuti

According to Healthcare Without Harm, an organization dedicated to reducing the environmental footprint of the health sector, over half the world’s population is at risk from the health impacts of healthcare waste.

Improper handling of medical waste does not only bring a high ecological bill but also poses hazards to other patients, healthcare workers, waste pickers, and communities at large.

To eliminate such risks, the WHO recommends green hospitals promote practices that reduce the volume of waste generated and ensure proposer waste segregation.

Biophilic Design

Design biofilo

Biophilic design incorporates natural elements and processes into the lived space. An increasing number of healthcare facilities have been adopting this approach, reaping many environmental and well-being benefits.

The transformations at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore, which is described as “a hospital in a garden, and a garden in a hospital” epitomize the healing powers of biophilic design for both planets and patients.

The green roofs, optimized natural light, and the naturalistic ambiance of this stunning hospital not only reduce the ecological footprint but also are proven to improve health outcomes.

Embracing Digitization

Abbracciare la digitalizzazione

Digitization, which continues to reshape and restructure our economies, is also a key trend in healthcare. It touches almost every aspect of it and brings countless opportunities for growth, efficiency — and sustainability.

Thanks to telemedicine and e-health solutions, patients can enjoy fewer but much more productive and accurate visits to their hospitals, resulting in a 26 percent reduction in in-person visits.

Using electronic health records instead of paper records can save millions of tonnes of paper every year, in addition to the resources needed to archive and manage the documents physically.

Digital solutions in hospital buildings, such as IoT sensors or intelligent security and access control systems, can further contribute to green healthcare facilities.

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