Approaches to lowering healthcare emissions

November 9, 2021

Clara Phillips

Public health faces a concerning irony: air pollution is one of the most significant environmental challenges that affects public health, yet about 5% of Canada’s greenhouse gases are created by the healthcare sector. Critical policy and political changes are desperately needed, fueling discussions by global leaders at the Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. The COP26 started on October 31 and continues this week through until November 12.

Specifically, developments in healthcare policy towards more sustainable practices are being made by various groups. The World Federation of Societies of Anesthesiologists has created a Working Group to guide anesthesia providers toward environmentally sustainable practices, such as choosing environmentally preferable medications and equipment, minimizing waste, and incorporating sustainable principles within anesthesia research and education.

Health Care Without Harm, an international NGO leading the global sustainable healthcare movement, has created a road map that focuses on transforming healthcare into a “climate-smart” sector through decarbonization and achieving greater health equity between and within countries. As the official healthcare partner of the Race to Zero campaign (of whose members commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050), Health Care Without Harm has been working up to COP26 to mobilize over 450 organizations representing 45 million health workers to call for urgent climate action to protect people’s health.

The COP26 has shown that efforts are being made at international levels to lower these emissions, aiming to decrease the creeping rate of climate-related illnesses and deaths. Visit here to find out more about the events of the week. At the national level, the Centre for Sustainable Health Systems (CSHS), a Toronto-based Canadian partner with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare in the UK, has initiated campaigns for replacing or limiting the use of emission-producers. These include swapping conventional anesthetic gases and practices with more environmentally-friendly options, minimizing energy and waste in operating rooms, and mitigating the impact from metered-dose inhalers (MDIs). In North America and around the globe, MDIs have not only become a default prescription for inhalers, but there are too many inhalers being prescribed, describes Dr. Kimberly Wintemute who is leading the initiative by the CSHS. Research has shown that emissions from 100 puffs of an MDI is roughly the same amount emitted from a 300-km car ride. Dry-powdered inhalers, if the patient can tolerate them, can be an excellent replacement to MDIs as they don’t emit the hydrofluorocarbons that MDIs produce, which act as greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

As a leading healthcare facility in respiratory care and rehabilitation, West Park recognizes how worsening air quality predisposes our vulnerable patient population to additional injury or illnesses. In response, West Park operates in accordance with the Government of Canada Air Quality Health Index report. Each year, West Park also voluntarily completes the Green Hospital Scorecard to help us improve our pollution prevention, as well as other climate factors such as energy and water conservation, waste management and recycling, and corporate commitment.

To learn more about the importance of clean air and how to protect yourself against air pollution, check out these online resources.

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