Celebrated annually on 5 June, World Environment Day is a global initiative to raise awareness of environmental issues and recognise the need for sustainable practices that protect our planet for future generations. Medical devices play a vital role in improving patient care and outcomes; however, their production, usage, and disposal can generate waste, consume energy, and contribute to pollution. On this World Environment Day, it is essential to recognise the potential for positive change and collective action within the industry.

This year’s World Environment Day theme, “Beat Plastic Pollution”, highlights the critical need to reduce single-use plastics and transition to a circular economy. The circular economy aims to keep materials and products in use for as long as possible and strays from the historically linear make-use-dispose mindset to a circular (re)use-recycle approach to eliminate waste and reduce resource consumption.

Medical devices have traditionally relied on plastic materials due to their versatility, durability, and cost-effectiveness. However, the high volume of single-use plastic devices and packaging contributes significantly to plastic pollution. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated this issue with the increased production and use of masks, gloves, and rapid tests. In 2023, medical device companies will be actively making changes and adopting practices to become more environmentally responsible. Key initiatives and approaches include sustainable material selection and design, reduced packaging, extending the product lifecycle, responsible waste management, and energy efficiency.

GlobalData, a leading provider of market intelligence and analytics, conducted an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) survey in Q1 2023 to gauge commitment to sustainability and determine factors leading to ESG adoption. The survey revealed that 45% of respondents said their company either had no ESG plan (27%) or could not say whether they had one (18%). This is down from the combined 68% in the previous quarter, suggesting communication surrounding ESG strategies is improving. However, 46% of respondents believed that ESG is treated only as a marketing exercise and companies are not fully committed to change—an increase from 30% in the previous quarter. If stakeholders do not believe a company is fully committed to change, then ESG plans will work against companies rather than for them. As a result, companies may keep quiet about their ESG strategy to avoid scrutiny and greenwashing allegations. However, change cannot be realised if there is not full communication between companies, consumers, workers, and investors about environmental initiatives, progress, and challenges.

Due to the nature of medical products, device quality needs to remain a priority, and swift eco-friendly changes cannot be made at the expense of patient health. Larger, long-term changes to medical devices and manufacturing will rely on proper regulation and risk mitigation. Pressure from the private sector (customers, investors, and workers) is still an important factor driving ESG action by medical device companies; however, the ESG regulatory landscape is starting to catch up. Popular opinion in GlobalData’s survey indicated that the legislature and pressure from the government should lead ESG decisions (35% of votes), superseding the desire to improve financial performance (29% of votes). For more information about the regulatory and disclosure changes that are promoting commitment to environmental sustainability and the initiatives by leading medical device companies to reduce emissions and better manage resources, check out GlobalData’s report, Environmental Trends in Healthcare – Thematic Intelligence.

Together, let us strive for a world where medical devices continue to advance healthcare while protecting and restoring the environment.

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By GlobalData