How the healthcare sector can meet the moment on sustainability:
The path forward may surprise you, but it's one worth taking.

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If the global healthcare sector were a country, it would represent the fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet. In the U.S., the industry is responsible for nearly 8.5% of national carbon emissions.

For far too long, the healthcare industry has ignored its vast environmental impact. But the climate crisis and rising sustainability pressures from patients, staff, and regulators mean healthcare leaders can no longer afford inaction.

With their 24/7 operations, hospitals are among the most energy-intensive facilities, consuming vast amounts of electricity for lighting, heating, and medical equipment. The sector also generates significant waste — from single-use plastics to complex biomedical refuse. Moreover, the healthcare supply chain, encompassing everything from pharmaceuticals to medical devices, leaves a substantial carbon footprint through production, transport, and disposal processes.

However, with stretched budgets and strategic overload, health systems often struggle to prioritize sustainability. The path forward begins by recognizing IT sustainability as a competitive advantage, one that drives efficiency, talent acquisition, and care quality.

What is sustainable healthcare?

Sustainable healthcare is a multifaceted approach that merges environmental stewardship, economic viability, and social responsibility into the healthcare sector.

At its core, sustainable healthcare aims to reduce the environmental footprint of healthcare operations while enhancing patient care and operational efficiency. It’s about creating a health system that meets today’s needs without hindering the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

This approach encompasses a broad spectrum of practices: Energy-efficient hospital designs, medical waste reduction, technology-enhanced patient care, and green procurement policies are just a few. Ultimately, it’s a holistic outlook that considers the long-term impacts of healthcare on our planet and society.

The benefits of transformation

Sustainability is becoming a key differentiator in the healthcare sector. Organizations that lead in sustainability are seen as innovators. This attracts patients who value environmental responsibility and top talent who want to work for forward-thinking employers. In this way, sustainable healthcare practices become a competitive advantage, positioning organizations as leaders in a future-oriented healthcare landscape.

Its most immediate benefit is its positive environmental impact. By reducing greenhouse gas emissions, limiting waste, and preserving resources, healthcare facilities contribute to a healthier planet. This, in turn, leads to healthier communities. After all, a cleaner environment means reduced disease burden, a fact that resonates deeply within the ethos of healthcare. Progress on environmental improvements, such as reducing air pollution and enhancing sanitation, directly translates to improved health indicators.

Sustainable healthcare isn’t just good for the planet; it’s good for the bottom line.

Energy-efficient facilities, waste reduction strategies, and sustainable procurement practices lead to significant cost savings. These practices enhance operational efficiency, making healthcare systems more resilient to the fluctuating costs of energy and resources. Economic efficiency is crucial for equitable and sustainable health outcomes, as it enables broader access to health services and protection against catastrophic health expenditures.

Sustainability in healthcare goes beyond infrastructure and operations, of course. It directly impacts patient care and staff well-being. Facilities prioritizing environmental health contribute to improved patient outcomes as patients recover in cleaner, greener surroundings. For staff, working in an organization that values sustainability can increase job satisfaction and retention. This approach to healthcare is vital for addressing health disparities and ensuring equitable access to health services, ultimately supporting broader social and health-related goals.

The barriers standing in your way

While the benefits of sustainable healthcare are clear, the path to achieving them can be bumpy. Healthcare organizations face several hurdles in their journeys toward sustainability, from resource allocation to financial constraints and organizational leadership.

One of the primary hurdles lies in managing IT infrastructure and lifecycle, including the adoption of energy-efficient hardware and responsible disposal and recycling of electronic waste. Balancing these needs while ensuring uninterrupted healthcare services adds a layer of complexity to sustainability initiatives.

Then there are the financial limitations. Many healthcare organizations operate under tight budget constraints, making it difficult to allocate funds for sustainability projects that may require upfront investment. While sustainable practices often lead to cost savings in the long run, the initial expenditure can be a deterrent. This is especially true in a sector where financial resources are often stretched thin by the rising costs of healthcare. The U.S. spends twice as much per individual on healthcare compared to peer countries, including over half of the excess on expenditures like “administrative costs of insurance (~15% of the excess), administrative costs borne by providers (~15%), prescription drugs (~10%), wages for physicians (~10%) and registered nurses (~5%), and medical machinery and equipment (less than 5%).”

One of the most overlooked challenges is the absence of dedicated leadership for sustainability initiatives. Sustainable healthcare transformation requires significant investment and vision and direction. In many organizations, there is often a lack of clear accountability and leadership when it comes to driving sustainability efforts. This can result in fragmented initiatives and missed opportunities for organizational change.

SHI’s strategic approach to sustainable healthcare

These challenges, while significant, are not insurmountable. They require a thoughtful approach where sustainability is integrated into the core operational and financial planning of healthcare organizations.

And that’s where SHI comes in.

Our expertise in IT infrastructure and lifecycle management is at the forefront of our sustainable healthcare initiatives. By optimizing IT systems and infrastructure, we help healthcare organizations reduce their environmental footprint while enhancing operational efficiency. This includes adopting energy-efficient technologies, asset recovery, e-waste recycling, innovative IT asset lifecycle management solutions, and more.

SHI offers environmentally responsible and economically viable solutions, helping healthcare organizations optimize their investments while ensuring that sustainability is a strategic advantage, not a financial burden.

Our commitment to sustainability is deeply ingrained in our corporate ethos, as evidenced by our goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Our comprehensive ESG initiatives encompass a wide range of activities, from environmental stewardship to social responsibility and corporate governance. We align our operations with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on crucial areas such as health, education, and climate action.

Furthermore, SHI Healthcare is adept at providing tailored solutions to healthcare organizations. ESG assessments to establish baselines and identify opportunities for sustainable growth are just the start. Our offerings in cloud services, data center modernization, and cybersecurity are designed to meet the unique needs of each healthcare organization, ensuring that sustainability is seamlessly integrated into their operations.

The complex — but achievable — road ahead

The path to sustainable healthcare undoubtedly includes complex challenges, from competing priorities to constrained budgets to unclear roadmaps.

Yet, tackling sustainability requires the entire healthcare ecosystem — insurers, manufacturers, providers, and technology partners — to collectively step up in transformative ways. It will demand embracing innovation, letting go of old norms, and anchoring around a shared priority: equitable planetary and community health.

The future depends on action across healthcare today. We must act now. Reach out to our team today to get started.

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