What Is the Environmental Impact of a Hospital Bed in Terms of Carbon Emissions?

The University of Waterloo’s researchers have achieved a groundbreaking milestone by conducting the inaugural assessment of a Canadian hospital to unveil its comprehensive environmental impact and pinpoint specific areas of high carbon emissions.

During the fiscal year of 2019, the researchers examined a hospital in British Columbia and identified energy and water consumption, along with the procurement of medical supplies, as the primary sources of carbon emissions. These factors accounted for more than half of the hospital’s annual carbon footprint, which ranged between 3,500 and 5,000 tons of CO2 equivalent. Remarkably, the carbon footprint of a single hospital bed was found to be roughly equivalent to that of five Canadian households.

This significant research is presented in the article titled “Environmental Footprinting of Hospitals: Organizational Life Cycle Assessment of a Canadian Hospital,” published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

The innovative methodology introduced by this study provides an unprecedented level of depth and specificity to hospital emissions data. It equips hospital administrators with the insights needed to identify key areas for improvement in order to meet their environmental commitments.

As Alex Cimprich, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Environment, Enterprise, and Development, noted, “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.”

To calculate the carbon footprint, the researchers meticulously assessed thousands of distinct products procured by hospitals. They employed a combination of statistical sampling and calculations of carbon intensity, measuring CO2 equivalent per dollar spent on the sampled products. This approach stands in contrast to commonly used environmental assessments, which provide only rough estimates and offers a more detailed, bottom-up perspective.

Cimprich highlighted the implications of their findings, stating, “The results suggest that hospital sustainability initiatives need to look further to achieve deeper emissions reductions. While transportation of patients and the supply of products to hospitals, as well as hospital waste, are visible areas of environmental concern, other concealed aspects, such as the supply chains of medical products, could have a much larger environmental impact.”

Future research endeavors may delve deeper into the identified carbon emission hotspots, and this new approach could also be extended to assess other hospitals and various types of healthcare facilities, such as primary care or long-term care, and potentially even organizations beyond the healthcare sector.

Source: University of Waterloo

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