Climate change has a major impact on health and the environment. The converse is also true, as the healthcare sector is a major contributor to emissions, pollution and waste. Upon request by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the National Institute for Public Health and Environmental Protection (RIVM) developed a method to investigate the impact of the Dutch healthcare sector on the environment and the climate. For the first time, this method also pays attention to aspects beyond the impact on climate change, namely impacts that are relevant for the circular economy and biodiversity.
Total contribution: 7%
The healthcare sector is responsible for around 7% of all emissions of greenhouse gases. This includes emissions both in the Netherlands and abroad. This percentage confirms earlier estimates, and this new method provides a firmer scientific basis for these estimates. The method not only calculates the greenhouse gas emissions (climate change) as a result of the production and use of goods and services in the healthcare sector, but also takes into account the environmental impacts on water consumption, raw materials (metals and minerals), land use and waste production. This method also offers the opportunity to add additional effects to the calculation later.
Biggest emitters: chemical and pharmaceutical industries
The production of chemical products, including solvents and medicines, accounts for approximately 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries are responsible for the largest proportion of the healthcare sector's climate footprint. Exactly which products and processes are causing these emissions is not yet clear, and more research into this matter is required. The report takes the first step in this direction by providing a clear overview of current knowledge.
Healthcare environment also studied
RIVM also identified a range of effective measures based on literature and professional practice that will help create an environment that will be beneficial to patients' health and recovery. Examples of this can be found in a variety of healthcare sectors such as hospitals, geriatric healthcare and mental healthcare. Greenery, architecture and nutrition were also raised as factors that can cultivate these environments and benefit health. Healthcare professionals have a pressing need for practical examples.
The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport can use this study to help fulfil its pledge to conduct a thorough assessment of the healthcare sector's environmental impact every four years. The ministry made this promise in 2021 at the Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow.