The growing problems associated with climate change are significantly impacted by the pollution and waste from health care facilities. Our health is, in turn, impacted by the resulting worsening air and water quality, access to nutritious food, and safe shelter.
The U.S. health sector contributes 8% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the operating room accounting for more than 30% of hospital waste.1,2,3 These emissions are produced through incinerating medical waste, high energy intensity (amount of energy used per occupied space), anesthetic gases, and energy consumption.
The Role of the Surgeon
As surgeons, we are seen as leaders within the health care system, and when it comes to environmentalism, it is no different. We can adopt the concept of a “green operating room” to reduce solid waste by replacing disposable items with reusable ones and salvaging reusable items (e.g., batteries). Surgeons can streamline instrument sets and encourage energy conscious practices, such as turning off OR lights and equipment when not in use. The use of telemedicine when can also reduce carbon emissions and can help increase access for patients. Academic surgeons can adopt practices outside of the clinical setting to incorporate sustainability. This includes virtual recruitment, virtual educational opportunities, and academic travel to limit one’s carbon footprint.
The 2022 Society of Asian Academic Surgeons meeting was in Honolulu, Hawaii. To reduce the environmental impact of traveling to this conference, we took some of the following measures:
- Utilizing public transportation
- Booking direct flights and flying coach
- Cleaning shoes before and after arriving to prevent the collection and spread of seeds
- Using reusable water bottles, shampoo bars, reusable cutlery, and going straw-less reduce disposable plastic waste
- Using reef-safe sunscreen to help protect the coral reefs
Academic surgery combines clinical practice with an element of leadership, at all levels. Our recognition and action to reduce wasteful practices can help leave a better earth for generations to come.
- Kaiser, B., P.D. Eagan, and H. Shaner, Solutions to health care waste: Life-cycle thinking and “green” purchasing. Environ Health Perspect, 2001. 109(3): p. 205-7.
- MacNeill, A.J., R. Lillywhite, and C.J. Brown, The impact of surgery on global climate: A carbon footprinting study of operating theatres in three health systems. Lancet Planet Health, 2017. 1(9): p. e381-e388.
- Wu, S. and E. Cerceo, Sustainability Initiatives in the operating room. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf, 2021. 47(10): p. 663-672.