Green healthcare on the horizon – European experts for green transformation and sustainability at the Green Healthcare Policy Summit for CEE region!
hat do we need to do in order to transform healthcare to think “green and sustainable” and mitigate the negative impact of the healthcare system on the environment? – is one of the global issues that Croatia, as a regional leader, has decided to face in a timely manner, initiating through the think tank Health Hub a gathering of European experts on in the field of “green healthcare”. The summit was held hybridly, supporting the initiatives of the European Commission (Green Deal, Next Generation EU and European Health Union), with the aim to make healthcare institutions in the CEE region aware of the numerous opportunities for European funding that are offered for projects with a green, sustainable and digital philosophy!
At numerous events dedicated to sustainability, healthcare is most often bypassed, showing that awareness of all the advantages that the “green mindset” of healthcare institutions offers to patients, institutions, the healthcare system, the state and the entire planet is still insufficiently developed!
The healthcare sector generates 4.5% of CO2 emissions, which is more than shipbuilding or aviation. If we do nothing, the health sector is predicted to generate as much as 6 trillion tons of CO2 by 2050. It is a global estimate that the energy used to cool hospitals each year produces the same amount of CO2 as 110 coal power plants, and energy consumption along the healthcare supply chain accounts for the lion’s share of CO2 emissions, as some references highlight.
Every year, billions of USD worth of drugs are discarded because they are packaged in vials larger than what is needed for one patient, leading to an unnecessary waste of resources and increased costs for the storage of residues. The consumption of single-use items has become particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated 187,000 tonnes of protective clothing and 144,000 tonnes of additional waste during vaccination (including syringes and needles) being produced during the first 20 months of the global response to COVID-19. highlighting the urgent need for healthcare systems globally to rethink how medical waste is managed – as it is all a vicious circle within which individual health and the sustainability of healthcare systems are placed.
It is also interesting to note that one hospital bed generates approximately 13 kg of waste every day. All this waste is removed outside the hospital building. This includes not only traditional waste, but also medical, radioactive and chemical waste, which requires systematic and organized thinking about environmentally conscious healthcare.
Dunja Mazzocco Drvar, Director of the Directorate for Climate Activities of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, as a delegate of Croatian Minister Davor Filipović, emphasized the continuous efforts that Croatia, through all policies and departments, promotes European “green” vision and the implementation of the Green Deal mission for the benefit of the health of all citizens!
How important it is to achieve a constructive public-private dialogue of all stakeholders in the green transformation of healthcare, especially when the innovative med-tech industry has been developing “green” solutions for many years, emphasized Miroslav Šaban (Head of Government and Public Affairs for Central Eastern Europe, Philips): “It is necessary to continuously raise awareness about this problem and work together on a consistent green transformation of healthcare. The Philips Future Health Index report explored the issues of a sustainable healthcare system and green transformation in the sector, where healthcare managers shared their views on this topic. On the example of Poland, interest in this topic has grown from 2% of health managers in Poland to over 30% in just one year, which indicates that the awareness of health leadership is changing in the right direction for the benefit of healthy and sustainable health care.” Polish Hospital Federation presented example of excellence and green leadership by delegating Chief Sustainability Officer, Michał P. Dybowski, who presented the inspiring statement and activities of their hospitals towards implementing a green and sustainable transformation.
Supporting Croatia’s initiative to be a leader in raising awareness of green and sustainable healthcare in the region, Minister of Tourism and Sports Nikolina Brnjac pointed out: “We see health tourism as one of the main drivers of the development of year-round tourism in the future, and that is precisely why we highlighted health tourism in the Sustainable Development Strategy tourism by 2030 by encouraging green and digital projects through the National Resilience and Recovery Plan.” At the Summit, inspiring examples from Croatia were presented, which are a good example of cooperation with the Ministry of Health and local communities, and give all healthcare institutions a wind behind them to create green projects. Ratko Vuković, the director of the Daruvar spa, presented a “green and digital” project worth EUR 17 million for the improvement of services in health tourism, while Nikša Antica through examples of green public procurement and the projects of Karlovac, Zadar and Zabok hospitals (which designed projects of solar power plant on the roof of hospital buildings) emphasized the contribution of green thinking to the sustainability of hospitals.
Wies van den Heijden from Health Care Without Harm Europe (Brussels), who are the main initiators of the trend of “green healthcare institutions”, pointed out: “The potential for a green transformation of healthcare is huge. In Europe alone, the health sector employs more than 21 million people and accounts for 10% of GDP. Currently, our healthcare systems are under increasing pressure as the population ages and the impacts of climate change and pandemics grow. In this context, we prove that it is possible to provide the highest quality of care in a way that is ecologically and financially sustainable. We show how we can transform healthcare and protect people and our planet. Everyone connected to the health sector has a key role to play.”
Ruth van Asperen, Global Partnership Manager – Government & Public Affairs from Philips presented recommendations from Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience: „The PHSSR reports depict varying national responses to these interlinked problems. The reports assess the emissions and waste management practices of health systems, with some countries demonstrating proactive measures to reduce their environmental impact. They highlight the risks posed by climate change, including heat-related illnesses and increased mortality rates. Air pollution is a particular concern, affecting respiratory health in several countries. The reports emphasise the need for data collection, reporting, and awareness to drive environmental sustainability efforts. All countries in some way are addressing the challenges, particularly the acute consequences of environmental risks on health, but there is in many cases a lack of overarching policy infrastructure for health systems to play their part in overall emissions reduction.“
Marie-Sharmila Blandino, EFPIA’s Oncology Platform, pointed out at the Summit how we can make cancer treatment, as a European health-policy priority, more sustainable while easing the financial burden on the systems: “We can build a more environmentally sustainable future through innovation to better use our human, material and financial resources. For this, smart investments in cancer care are urgently needed to alleviate demands on healthcare systems and improve access to cancer care.”
The issue of valorizing “green and sustainable” technologies at the level of health institutions through encouraging “green” public procurement was highlighted as very important, with recommendations on the importance of reducing greenhouse gases, circularity (circular economy concept), transparency on ecological design, digitalization highlighted as part of improving decarbonization and dematerialization and social impact. Summit also presented the innovative Croatian solution Nobula Case and its potential for simulating health policies and green transformation of health institutions with the help of AI technology.
During Summit, there was a discussion on key areas where health technology purchasers in Europe can integrate green criteria in the procurement process – to stimulate innovations and advancements in healthcare, increase value for money, and reduce the pressure that health systems place on the global environment.
Green Healthcare Policy Summit was bold regional dialogue between many stakeholders, and hopefully deeper engagement on sustainable procurement and green hospital initiatives will folow so we can build more productive and resilient delivery of healthcare services, specially in postpandemic period for more efficient recovery.
The conference was attended by numerous experts and institutions, representatives of the European Commission, associates of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, Health Care without Harm Europe, Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience (in cooperation with the London School of Economics), Polish Federation of Hospitals, Amsterdam UMC, EFPIA, Center for Innovation in Medicine INOMED (Romania), and innovative medtech healthcare industry stakeholders Philips, Microsoft, Confiva and Dedal. Health Hub as a think tank continues its mission of connecting all stakeholders at the international and national level, in order to be a tailwind for affirmative stories and projects in healthcare, for the benefit of the individual and the community!
Recording of Green Healthcare Policy Summit will be available soon at Health Hub platform and will be shared throughout social media channels.