In November 2009, twelve national organizations representing all areas of the health sector, joined by the David Suzuki Foundation, produced a joint statement spelling out a new commitment to creating an environmentally responsible health sector. The Joint Position Statement (JPS): Toward an Environmentally Responsible Canadian Health Sector, recognizes the link between health, health care and the environment and is supported by organisations like the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association:
“Obviously, there is a direct link between health and the environment and Canada’s physicians are committed to following environmentally responsible practices as they care for patients,” said Canadian Medical Association President Dr. Anne Doig.
“Canada’s nurses feel that the health sector must be a leader in promoting environmentally responsible practices,” concluded Kaaren Neufeld, President of the Canadian Nurses Association. “We want to make greening the health sector a priority for all organizations and individuals involved in delivering health care services to Canadians.”
The health care sector has key opportunities to support an environmentally responsible health care sector:
- The health sector is a significant part of Canada’s economy, contributing approximately 10% of gross domestic product (GDP) and over 2 million employees across Canada. Thus, the sector uses considerable energy; consumes large quantities of resources such as chemicals, plastics, and paper; and produces significant solid, liquid and gaseous waste.
- Environmental contaminants have been associated with compromised health status, including cancer, birth defects, respiratory and cardiovascular illness, gastrointestinal ailments and death — and an increased demand for a range of health care services.
- With the improvement of health care technologies and a growing awareness of environmentally responsible practices, there is an increased opportunity for reducing the health sector’s environmental footprint. How the health sector contributes to the economy, the types of products and services used, can help drive the health of our communities.
The signatories to the JPS envision the health sector as a leader in integrating environmentally responsible practices (also known as ‘green’ practices) into the delivery of health care and as an advocate in sharing information on best practices and encouraging Canadians and Canadian organizations to limit their environmental footprint. In a green health sector, minimizing negative impact on the environment would be a priority for all organizations and individuals in their day-to-day practices and at all levels of decision-making.
A collaborative approach to delivering environmentally responsible health care is required. Best practices such as the following, will help build this new green health care culture:
- Educate staff and the public on the link between health and the environment and on the health impact of environmental degradation, and help in the development, dissemination and implementation of knowledge and best practices.
- Support and encourage research on health and the environment, and on environmentally responsible practices in a variety of health care settings.
- Implement energy-conserving techniques and products.
- Request rationalized packaging and other environmentally responsible actions from vendors of health care products.
- Promote safer substitutes to reduce exposure to toxic substances.
- Reduce waste by reusing and recycling when possible.
- Practise safe disposal practices for biomedical and infectious waste; outdated medications; and polyvinyl plastics, mercury and other toxic substances.
- Establish green teams to support the practice of ecologic stewardship.
Green health care can appeal to health professionals and institutions for many reasons. It offers/allows the:
- potential to safeguard the environment, an increasingly compelling challenge;
- healthcare institutions to demonstrate leadership in their communities;
- platform for educating students and members of the public;
- facilities to save money;
- potential to protect and promote health, both directly and indirectly.
It is with this backdrop of support and consensus in the Canadian health care community that a Toxics Reduction Strategy for Canadian Health Care Facilities is presented.
Toxics reduction and safer chemicals initiatives are already occurring globally, through international business and government cooperation, and locally -specifically in the health care sector. The benefits of a toxics reduction strategy falls into three main categories: health, environmental and economic – with an emphasis that in many cases these are long term benefits that have proven difficult to demonstrate via traditional business cases. The challenge is to identify this as a priority within the health care community and under the current funding structure in Ontario and throughout Canada.
This project has identified existing toxics reduction strategies in health care facilities, conducted a survey of Ontario health care facilities on their green cleaning efforts, and provided resources such as a sample green procurement policy for health care facilities to implement their own toxics reduction initiatives and strategies.
July 2009 – August 2010
Ontario Trillium Foundation
YMCA Youth Eco Internship Program
University Health Network – Toronto, ON
– Ed Rubinstein, Manager of Energy & Environment
– Kady Cowan, Energy Steward
The Ottawa Hospital – Ottawa, ON
– Jessica Heiss (Graveline), Coordinator, Sustainability & Building Integration
a. Toxics Reduction Strategy for Health Care. Available by request.
b. Presentation on toxics reduction. Download PDF »