Healthcare facilities and hospitals are focused on improving patient outcomes, but achieving these goals often requires carbon-intensive energy sources. Learn how the U.S. healthcare system has started to recognize its harmful impact and how this sector is taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint and protect public health.
Understanding the environment impact of healthcare systems
Healthcare isn’t typically considered a “dirty” business, but according to the U.S. Department of Energy and other groups, the U.S. healthcare sector:
- Spends more than an estimated $8 billion on energy each year
- Generates 8.5-10% of the country’s carbon emissions (~3.8 million tons of carbon dioxide)
- Releases 9% of the air pollutants in the U.S.2
- Creates thousands of tons of medical waste each day
Whether directly or indirectly attributable to healthcare operations, this energy-intensive industry has an appetite for fossil fuels, and its collective carbon footprint has become a significant problem that continues to:
- Damage public health: Healthcare-generated air pollution can cause range of health problems, such as respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease or cancer.
- Exacerbate climate change: At a global level, healthcare energy usage contributes to climate change and its far-reaching effects—extreme temperatures, wildfires, flooding, and severe weather—which can further impact historically vulnerable groups.
Despite these known threats, managing energy needs has been difficult. Greenhouse gas emissions generated in the U.S. healthcare system rose 6% between 2010-2018 to reach the highest per capita rate among industrialized nations.
Examining common sources of carbon emissions from the health sector
To fully understand the extent of the problem, it’s helpful to examine the source of healthcare-related greenhouse gas emissions, which are described as “scopes.”1
- Scope 1 – Emissions directly from a health facility: This includes emissions from on-site boilers and medical gases; these only account for 7% of the total healthcare sector emissions.
- Scope 2 – Emissions attributed to purchased energy: Electricity sources purchased by health systems account for 11% of healthcare-related emissions.
- Scope 3 – Supply chain emissions: The largest carbon footprint (82%) is attributed to the healthcare supply chain, which includes the production and transportation of goods and services used in health systems.
Recognizing the social and ethical responsibility to improve environmental performance
Many hospitals and health systems have recognized these issues as an opportunity to not only improve public health but also reduce their energy costs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Sector Climate Pledge has already attracted many hospitals and large organizations as they commit to reduce their impact by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 by incorporating more sustainable practices.
If your organization is ready to lead the change and transition to cleaner, more renewable sources of energy—while reducing business costs—Pixel Health is here to help.
Get in touch and find out how our Energy and Sustainable Development can design and deliver a sustainability program that meets your organization’s immediate needs and helps reach your long-term stewardship goals.
 “Energy.” Practice Greenhealth. https://practicegreenhealth.org/topics/energy/energy. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.
 Stepping Up to the Challenge Together. Better Buildings Progress Report 2022. https://betterbuildingssolutioncenter.energy.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/DOE_BBI_2022_Progress_Report.pdf. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.
 Matthew J. Eckelman, Kaixin Huang, Robert Lagasse, Emily Senay, Robert Dubrow, and Jodi D. Sherman.
Health Care Pollution And Public Health Damage In The United States: An Update
Health Affairs 2020 39:12, 2071-2079. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.01247