Challenge #Green: New Approaches for a sustainable Healthcare

Just a few days ago, the World Climate Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh was negotiating new targets for sustainability and fossil energies. European policymakers in particular seem to be clear: in the long term, only a radical restructuring can put a stop to climate change.

This also applies to the healthcare industry in particular. Healthcare is responsible for more than 5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions currently emitted in Germany – that’s more than German shipping or aviation. Regardless of whether it is energy use, water consumption or the amount of waste produced in hospitals: A sustainable healthcare system looks different.

How can sustainability goals also be implemented in the German healthcare system?

All beginnings are difficult – this is especially true when it comes to sustainability, which is still uncharted territory for most players in the German healthcare sector. Networking can play a special role when it comes to taking the first steps toward green. Be it to share successes and failures, to evaluate best practices, to jointly build political pressure or to establish partnerships. The first green health pioneers from the Flying Health ecosystem are demonstrating what the new standard in green healthcare could look like in the future:

GreenTec Dialysis: Green Technologies for sustainable Dialysis Centers

There are around 80.000 dialysis patients in Germany. Every day, more than 12 million liters of fresh drinking water are needed for their treatment. This is equivalent to the content of five olympic swimming pools. The daily electricity demand of all dialysis centers is comparable to the consumption of a medium-sized city such as Greifswald or Friedrichshafen with just under 60.000 inhabitants. The annual costs for 100.000 MWh amount to 30 million Euros.

The Heidelberg-based green health startup GreenTec Dialysis has set itself the task of making dialysis centers energy-efficient and sustainable. From new concepts for saving drinking water to the use of photovoltaic systems and heat pumps – the company enables dialysis centers to save valuable resources by means of new concepts and to upgrade technologically in the process. As recently as October, the company presented the world’s first CO2 calculator for dialysis centers, developed jointly with the German Society for Nephrology (DGfN). The software-based calculator enables an area-wide determination of the CO2 footprint of dialysis centers, which closes existing data gaps with regard to CO2 emissions and can thus be used as a basis for the comprehensive identification of savings potentials and the use of sustainable technologies in the field of dialysis.

Sana Kliniken: Chief Sustainability Officer for Green Hospitals

With a total volume of more than one million tons of waste per year, hospitals are among the largest waste producers in Germany. Every year, about one ton of waste is generated per patient in a standard care hospital. A not insignificant portion of this waste is composed of a wide range of infectious materials, hazardous chemicals and disposable sharp instruments. Due to strict hygiene regulations and rigid processes, it is difficult to contain the volume of waste in both outpatient and inpatient care facilities. How can everyday hospital life nevertheless be made sustainable?

Sana Kliniken was one of the first hospital groups in Germany to appoint a Chief Sustainability Officer to address this issue, among others, thus raising the issue of sustainability to management level. Even if the job description seems novel, especially in a hospital context, the mission of a Chief Sustainability Officer is clearly defined: Identifying sustainable structures and concepts and anchoring them efficiently and in a resource-saving manner in the hospital’s own facilities. In addition to the volume of waste, other areas of everyday hospital life also come under the spotlight. Whether food supply, purchasing, logistics or mobility – they all offer potential for the sustainable saving of resources. Through an overarching strategy, Sana Kliniken AG wants to bundle these areas into a comprehensive concept for more sustainability. However, the existing regulatory framework for new sustainability concepts in hospitals is still having a braking effect on many clinics.

Siemens Healthineers: A new Lifecycle for Medical Devices

Modern and reliable medical systems are a decisive factor for the quality of care in both inpatient and outpatient facilities. Their production requires not only enormous innovative spirit, but also a great deal of time and resources. However, the effective service life of the systems is rapidly decreasing – providers often have to replace their currently used systems after just a few years or undergo extensive updates in order to keep up with medical and technical progress and ensure optimal care for their patients. At the end of these processes, there is an unimagined amount of medical technology “rejects” facing an uncertain future.

Siemens Healthineers wants to breathe new life into these devices. As part of its sustainability program, the company is buying back its own devices from their users, giving them a general overhaul and putting them back on the market at a lower cost. Many of the components and materials used in the end-of-life equipment can be used a second time – either in the same equipment being refurbished for a new customer or in other systems. This not only conserves resources, but also gives regions with less purchasing power access to affordable top systems. For example, computer tomographs refurbished by Healthineers have already helped improve emergency care in hospitals and provide comprehensive care for accident patients.

Green is the new digital

Similar to the wave of digitization that began a few years ago, the sustainability movement will profoundly change healthcare and become an integral part of healthcare delivery in the future. New players, markets, business models and regulatory frameworks will shake up and readjust proven structures and processes. Where rebate contracts with ESG linkage are still being discussed today, comprehensive legal foundations for sustainable care will be created within a very short time in order to be able to achieve the net-zero target by 2045.

For hospitals and practices, this means they will soon have to factor sustainability into their demand planning, reimbursement and treatment decisions. But it’s not just providers who need to become greener: The success of pharmaceuticals, insurance and suppliers will also be measured by their sustainability in the future. “Green” AMNOG, green insurance policies, and sustainability-related regulatory premiums and penalties are just a few examples that could herald the coming turn of the times. Players are already under pressure to act – because those who are too late can expect high losses for their own companies. At the same time, the green pioneers of the healthcare landscape, who are already active today, show what potential lies dormant in sustainable structures and why a green footprint can already be worthwhile.