By: Jim Mooney 
There’s no ignoring what’s in front of you with “blind ambition” when it comes to creating an environmentally sustainable world — especially in healthcare. Green ambition is real, and it’s time to turn that ambition into action in fighting climate change.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which cause climate change, harm human lives around the world. The outcome of GHGs goes against every fiber of what healthcare professionals and organizations stand for: to prevent sickness and heal people. To thrive in today’s world requires both green ambition and a massive effort to improve environmental sustainability in healthcare.

Climate change impacts our health

Despite the healthcare industry’s best intentions, medical facilities are still struggling to reduce their impact on climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, are the leading causes of climate change. In fact, in Canada, the healthcare sector produces nearly 5% of the national GHG emissions, which are causing health issues, and killing millions of people each year.[i]
As a result of GHGs, global warming negatively affects our health, including respiratory and heart diseases, pest-related diseases, water- and food-related illnesses, and injuries and deaths from natural disaster-related weather. Increases in violent crime and overall poor mental health have also been linked to climate change.[ii]

Here’s a look at the estimated annual healthcare costs (USD) related to climate change[iii]:

– $820 billion from soot air pollution caused by fossil fuels
– $7.9 billion from ozone smog pollution
– $11.4 million from allergenic pollens
– $860 million-$2.7 billion from vector-borne infectious diseases
– $16.3 billion from extreme weather, heat and wildfire smoke

GHG emission sources in healthcare

The Commonwealth Fund explains how one study identifies several areas in healthcare that contribute most to GHG emissions.[iv] Electricity, on-site boiler rooms, and medical gasses (i.e. medical air and oxygen) accounted for 18% of emissions, while 72% of supply chain emissions included:
– Water and waste
– Energy
– Transport
– Finance, insurance, administration, and public health
– Testing and research
– Construction
– Other manufacturing
– Information and computer technology, equipment, and services
– Plastics, rubber, textiles, and paper
– Medical supplies
– Medical devices
– Pharmaceuticals and chemicals
– Food

There’s a cure for sustainability in healthcare

It’s possible to reduce our healthcare carbon footprint by thinking strategically and combining data, science, and innovation. The long-term outcomes will reduce operational costs, drive efficiency and combat climate change to make a healthier environment. And remember, every little bit helps.
At Ricoh, we are committed to finding sustainable solutions of all kinds. Here are a few ways to begin pivoting green ambition into green action and sustainability in healthcare:
Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reducing waste, such as single-use plastics, medical equipment, and packaging can make a difference.
Use data instead of documents. Digitally transform and automate processes that can eliminate paper documents. Once documents are digitized, it reduces the need to be transported, stored, and secured, which all contribute to our carbon footprint. Intelligent business processes, including workflow efficiency, Patient Information Management Systems, and intelligent capture, also lead to increased productivity and cost-savings in addition to sustainability.
Print responsibly. It’s reported that as much as 30% of print jobs are never even picked up from the printer and that 45% of paper printed in offices ends up in the trash by the end of the day.[v] Consider printing only what you need.
Better manage your cloud resources. Whether managed IT services or internal teams are employed, FinOps (financial operations) evaluates and optimizes cloud computing usage to find the right balance of performance, quality, and cost. The outcome can help reach organizational sustainability goals.
Seek out reusable and recyclable materials like recycled paper and remanufactured equipment. Look into buying products made from sustainable materials that are minimally packaged with recyclable or biodegradable packaging materials.
Choose your supply chain vendors wisely. Verify that suppliers are ISO 14001-certified and comply with strict environmental sustainability standards and regulations. Remember to “think global, act local” with suppliers to help reduce emissions.
Revive your energy usage. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) are necessary but some tweaks like recalibrating thermostats and occupancy sensors, adjusting operating schedules, and rebalancing HVAC air and water flows can save energy. Also consider using clean, renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydropower energy. When in doubt, start with energy-efficient light bulbs and Energy Star-certified devices.
Make virtual care easy and accessible. Save patients’ time and lower GHGs with less fuel emissions from transportation. With fewer in-person patients, healthcare facilities can also minimize their resources, reduce future construction, and lower emissions.
Making repairs? Go green. Solar roofs, greenways, trees, native plants, and other green infrastructure all help reduce the urban heat island effect, absorb rainwater to prevent flooding, improve air quality, reduce stress, and create a better habitat for wildlife.[vii]
Revitalize hospital cafeteria menus. Consider using local produce and food as well as offering sustainably produced utensils. Revisit your supplier list and consider offering organic or free-range options.

Ready for a challenge?

Is green ambition on your radar? We challenge you to pick 3 items off our list this Earth Day to elevate sustainability in your medical facility.
Ricoh’s passion and commitment to environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility combined with numerous awards, sustainable products and services, and a team of innovative experts, means you’re in good hands. Let’s make a difference together.
[i] University of Toronto, Getting to net-zero emissions – what role does the health-care sector play?, November 4, 2021
[ii] IOPscience, Global warming to increase violent crime in the United States, March 2020
[iii] NRDC, Report: Health Costs from Climate Change and Fossil Fuel Pollution Tops $820 Billion a Year, May 2021
[iv] The Commonwealth Fund, How the U.S. Health Care System Contributes to Climate Change, April 2022
[v] Formstack, The Problem With Paper: Statistics That Will Blow Your Mind, January 2022
[vii] EPA, Green Infrastructure