Since the pandemic, we have seen increased media communication about the link between our health and the environment. This is nothing new, but the greater prominence and what we have experienced in the last years, show that we have some useful lessons to learn.
It is well known that to enjoy good health it is essential to be surrounded by a healthy environment, as this affects our physical and mental health. But have we asked ourselves how our health care affects the environment? What impact do health infrastructures and services have on the environment and therefore also on our health?
It seems like a paradox, however there are many organisations in the health sector in Europe that have considered taking care of our health while also taking care of the health of our planet.
In Europe, 149 organisations in the healthcare sector have implemented and obtained EMAS registration, a management system that has enabled them to minimise their environmental impact in terms of reducing energy, water, and material consumption as well as reducing atmospheric emissions, waste, and wastewater. This is not always easy as the sector is constantly faced with challenges of various kinds. Think of how important it is to find the right balance between maintaining good hygiene conditions to prevent the transmission of diseases and, at the same time, reducing the use of chemical products or the waste of sanitary materials.
These 149 organisations together have implemented EMAS at 656 sites and have the capacity to influence the environmental performance of an enormous number of people, not only the more than 226,000 employees they employ, but also the millions of people who enter their facilities each year, be they patients, visitors, medical and other health science students, suppliers, etc.
The healthcare sector could become an important agent of change in our society by strengthening the close link between human health and a healthy environment. The potential for action lies in the communication between the improvement of its activities and environmental results, the advice that its professionals can provide to citizens that additionally can have a positive impact on the environment (healthy mobility habits, seasonal food, correct and moderate use of cleaning products to avoid accidents, contact with nature, etc.), and the analysis and study of the impact of pollution on human health.
The EMAS history in the health sector and its current trend
The first EMAS-registered organisation in the sector was Evonik (Germany) in 1997 followed in 1999 by Klinikverbund Allgäu gGmbH and DENTINIC Praxis & Klinik der Zahnmedizin & Ästhetik, both of them also located in Germany.For Spain, its first registration was in 2001 (Hospital Universitario Juan Ramón Jiménez and Hospital Infanta Elena), Hungary in 2006 (Premed Pharma Kft.), Italy in 2008 (Formula Servizi Società Cooperativa), Austria in 2009 (Landeskrankenanstalten-Betriebsgesellschaft KABEG - Landeskrankenhaus Villach), Cipre in 2011 (ΑΔΑΜΑΝΤΙΟ ΟΔΟΝΤΙΑΤΡΙΚΟ ΚΕΝΤΡΟ ΛΤΔ), France in 2013 (SAS Clinique Saint Roch) and finally, for Estonia (sihtasutus Tartu Ülikooli Kliinikum) and Slovakia (Národný ústav srdcových a cievnych chorôb, a.s.) its first centres were registered in 2021.
It is worth noting that between 2020 and the first half of 2022, 22 organisations in the sector have obtained EMAS registration, which is almost 15% of the currently registered organisations. This seems like a good sign for the health sector.