Toronto: One hospital bed is roughly equivalent to the carbon footprint of five Canadian households, according to a first-of-its-kind study to calculate the environmental footprint of hospitals.
Carbon footprint refers to the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions.
Researchers from the University of Waterloo studied a hospital in British Columbia during its 2019 fiscal year and identified energy and water use and purchasing of medical products as the hospital’s primary hotspots, accounting for over half of the yearly footprint, totalling 3500-5000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent.
For the study, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, researchers calculated the carbon footprint by assessing thousands of unique products purchased by hospitals and using a combination of statistical sampling and calculations of carbon intensity — CO2 equivalent per dollar spent — for the sampled products.
“In our work, we often find that the biggest environmental footprints are where you least expect them to be. As the adage goes: out of sight, out of mind. The goal is to make hidden environmental footprints more visible so that we can start to manage them,” said Alex Cimprich, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development.
“The results suggest that hospital sustainability initiatives need to look further to achieve deeper emissions reductions.
“While transportation of patients and products supplied to hospitals and hospital waste are visible areas of environmental concern, other more hidden areas like the supply-chains of medical products could have much bigger environmental footprints,” Cimprich said.
The new method brings an unprecedented level of comprehensiveness and detail to hospital emissions data that can equip administrative leaders to assess which improvements to focus on to meet their environmental commitments.