How hospitals and the medtech sector are tackling threats to the environment
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How hospitals and the medtech sector are tackling the climate crisis

By Chloe Kent 28 Sep 2021

We examine the ways healthcare organisations are trying to tackle the climate crisis and reduce their environmental impact.

How hospitals and the medtech sector are tackling the climate crisis
Credit: Shutterstock

It’s no secret that the impending climate crisis is already having an increasingly negative impact on public health. Respiratory and cardiovascular diseases have been linked to worsening air quality, while extreme weather events have led to injuries and premature deaths. Climate change has also altered the prevalence and geographical prevalence of certain infectious diseases. The mental health effects of these events, and the very real risk that they will only become more frequent and more devastating as the years pass, is likely immeasurable.

While hospitals and medical innovators offer products and services that are part of the solution, they are also part of the problem. The global healthcare sector makes a significant contribution to climate change, through things like energy consumption, transport and the manufacturing, use and disposal of products. A 2019 report from Arup found that healthcare’s climate footprint is equivalent to 4.4% of global new emissions, the equivalent of two gigatons of carbon dioxide a year. If the health sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest emitter in the world.

Fortunately, steps are being taken to cut healthcare’s carbon footprint, whether through small changes like modifying analgesic gas or via multinational initiatives. Medical Device Network rounds up notable ways that the medical industry is attempting to go green.

Medtech and pharma join the Race to Zero

Race to Zero is a UN-backed global campaign that seeks to rally non-state organisations – from private companies to financial and educational institutions and even entire regions and cities – to take swift and immediate action to halve global emissions by 2030.

Led by the Nigel Topping and Gonzalo Muñoz, High-Level Climate Action Champions of the UK and Chile respectively, Race to Zero mobilises organisations to join the Climate Ambition Alliance, which was launched at the UNSG’s Climate Action Summit 2019 by the President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera. All Race to Zero members must meet stringent criteria that demonstrate their readiness to realistically meet the 2030 deadline to halve emissions, before going on to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.

Now, the medtech and pharmaceutical sector is the latest to join a group of 15 major industries to have reached a major Race to Zero milestone: over 20% of major actors by revenue within the sector have now joined the initiative.

Many major medtech players that have joined the Race to Zero have already taken significant steps toward reducing their emissions. Philips aims to source 75% of its total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2025 and its operations are already carbon-neutral, while Johnson & Johnson has committed $800m to its Healthy Lives Mission to improve the health of people and the planet through sustainable processes and product innovation.

The Race to Zero now includes 31 regions, 733 cities, 3,067 companies, 624 educational institutions, 173 investors and over 3,000 hospitals from 37 healthcare institutions.

Turning ambulances electric

It’s a well-established fact that electric vehicles are much better for the environment than those that run on hydrocarbons. Electric vehicles run solely on electricity, meaning there is no consumption of fossil fuels and no direct carbon dioxide emissions during driving, significantly reducing air pollution in towns and cities. Now, in the US, UK and around the globe, automotive companies are launching electric ambulances.

US commercial vehicle manufacturers Lightning eMotors and REV Group have announced that they are co-developing zero-emission, all-electric ambulances with Leader Emergency Vehicles, a REV Group subsidiary.  The companies expect to deliver to customers by the end of the year. The ambulances will be based on Lightning’s pre-existing electric transit van, which offers up to 105 kWh of battery capacity that can be charged via Level 2 AC charging or DC fast charging.

“Electrification is reaching all different types of fleet vehicles, and ambulances are a logical next step,” said Lightning eMotors CEO Tim Reeser. “These zero-emission vehicles are powerful, smooth and quiet, and drivers will love them. As a fully electric model, they have no tailpipe emissions, so it’s a healthier choice for the air you breathe as well.”

Meanwhile, the UK’s NHS is planning to purchase a fleet of fully electric ambulances in cooperation with Ford and the Venari Group, which debuted earlier this month at the Emergency Services Show in Birmingham. Known as Project Siren, the new ambulance platform has grown from design to finished vehicle in just 12 months and is also based on a pre-existing model, the Ford Transit chassis cab. The body and conversion will be built wholly by the Venari Group, parent company of the UK’s leading ambulance manufacturer O&H Vehicle Technology.

Project Siren collaborated with NHS Ambulance Trusts to develop the new 3.5-tonne vehicle, designing it to help improve patient treatment as well as ease-of-use for paramedics.

Ford of Britain chairman and Dr Grahame Hoare said: “Our exciting new lightweight ambulance is the result of listening to our customers, understanding their needs and finding innovative solutions to meet them. By collaborating with blue-light experts Venari Group for Project Siren, I’m confident that this new vehicle will redefine the blueprint for ambulances and help to transform the productivity of front line ambulance services in the UK.”

Novel technologies are keeping medical gases out of the environment

Entonox, aka gas and air, is a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen used to provide pain relief for people in labour. It can be used at any stage in active labour and is safe for both the pregnant person and the baby, making it a particularly useful tool in a midwife’s arsenal. However, nitrous oxide is also a powerful greenhouse gas over 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and escapes into the atmosphere after being exhaled by a patient.

A climate-friendly alternative to this process is now available, used in the UK for the first time this month at the Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary. Medclair has developed an anaesthetic gas scavenging system (AGSS) which directs exhaled gases into a mobile destruction unit (MDU). The MDU then breaks it these down into nitrogen and oxygen, which are harmless.

Medclair’s technology, which is already widely used in Sweden, purifies 99.6% of the nitrous oxide that enters the unit. Alongside the environmental benefits, it also reduces the amount of exhaled nitrous oxide healthcare workers are exposed to while they look after their patient.

The Newcastle patient, Kaja Gersinka, breathed gas and air through an Ultraflow device developed by BPR Medical, which is used by over 40% of NHS Trusts in England and all regional Trusts in Wales.

BPR Medical managing director Richard Radford said: “Nitrous oxide is a concern not only for the environment, but also for the safety of maternity unit staff. Minimising exposure to the gas is a top priority, so we’re delighted to have played a part in this ground-breaking development.”

Hospitals also use AGSS systems in the operating theatre to capture general anaesthetic gases before they escape into the atmosphere. Gas capture technology from companies like SageTech can now be incorporated into these systems to recycle the gases and allow them to be reused in future surgeries.

Giant solar farms are set to power tomorrow’s hospitals

An NHS hospital plans to become the first in England to be powered solely by renewable energy. Proposals for a giant solar farm directly cabled via a private wire to New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton have now been approved, with hospital bosses saying the scheme will help them save millions of pounds in energy bills over the next 20 years. This money – approximately £15m to £20m according to Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust head of estates development Stew Watson – will instead be funnelled into frontline services.

Construction on the solar farm is set to begin this autumn and could complete as early as spring next year. The solar panels will be set up on a 28-acre former landfill site and will provide 6.9MWp of renewable energy to New Cross Hospital once operational. The hospital will continue to have access to the national grid as a backup, should its connection to the solar farm become disrupted.

New Cross Hospital will be the first in England to be directly powered by a solar farm. It already has some green energy sources in use, including using heat generated by the on-site incinerator to provide additional power, which will be used in conjunction with the solar farm following its completion.

This article is part of a special series GlobalData Media is publishing in the run-up to COP26, which takes place in Glasgow from 1-12 November 2021. Our focus is on the business opportunities and challenges of the transition to clean energy and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Other articles in this series include: 

Energy Monitor – Why success at COP26 is vital for business

just-drinks.com – What drinks brand owners should know about COP26

Verdict – Inside Cervest’s plan to map the world’s climate risk