Omnia Health is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Sustainable healthcare architecture: Addressing the need of the hour

Article-Sustainable healthcare architecture: Addressing the need of the hour

Shutterstock 26.jpg
To be sustainable, placing healthcare at the centre of climate negotiations is crucial.

One of the greatest threats to human health today is climate change. Right from Pakistan to Sudan and the United States, we have seen floods and wildfires wreak havoc across all continents last year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 14 million people die each year from environmental health risks, with harmful emissions causing cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, and premature death.

Climate change events also disrupt healthcare by restraining access to care and jeopardising food security. The phenomenon is likely to force millions of people to migrate, causing stress on healthcare infrastructures and leading to more mental health issues among the population. At the same time, globally, we are still trying to emerge from COVID-19, which has presented an unprecedented challenge to public health.

To protect the health and well-being of our societies and future generations, the need to rapidly rebuild a sustainable and resilient healthcare system that can adapt and respond to the climate crisis has never been greater. To be sustainable, placing healthcare at the centre of climate negotiations is crucial.

What does sustainability mean in healthcare?

According to reports, the health sector is responsible for 4.4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. These contribute to the quality of air, water and other natural resources, impacting the health of communities. Health costs generated by climate change and pollution are reportedly estimated to be US$820 billion annually.

WHO describes an environmentally sustainable health system as one that “improves, maintains or restores health, while minimising negative impacts on the environment and leveraging opportunities to restore and improve it, to the benefit of the health and well-being of current and future generations.”

To put it simply, sustainable healthcare works to deliver high-quality care without damaging the environment. But, as global temperatures rise, the risk is that the burden on the healthcare industry is set to increase further.

Opportunities to build a sustainable healthcare architecture

There is an opportunity for countries to develop national climate adaptation plans with a health focus. Moreover, close partnerships between government, private and public sectors to invest in sustainable healthcare solutions are critical to catalysing climate action. Below are a few approaches that can help achieve this goal:

Decarbonisation: As one of the biggest producers of waste, hospitals use up enormous amounts of energy, chemicals, and water. With an increased emphasis on sustainability, hospitals need to look at using resources in a way that will not adversely affect the population’s health. This could include considering ways to limit their carbon emissions by leveraging energy efficiency, green building design, and being mindful of transportation, food, waste and water consumption.

Hospitals can build climate resilience and sustainability into their services by becoming proactive. For example, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) aims to reach net zero by 2045. To achieve this, the NHS is working to reduce emissions directly from healthcare activity, such as surgeries and inpatient treatments, ambulances and medications, as well as indirectly purchased resources, such as energy, to deliver services. It also focuses on indirect activity, including the medical supply chain, how patients and workers get around, and how waste is managed.

Resilience: As we saw during the height of the pandemic, hospitals had to quickly adapt and redesign spaces to be prepared to deal with the influx of patients. However, that happened as a consequence of the situation. Hospitals today need to invest in partnerships, become more resilient, and be prepared for massive and sudden crises in advance, allowing them to respond faster and more efficiently.

An example of this is the Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR), which has been initiated by the London School of Economics (LSE), the World Economic Forum (WEF) and AstraZeneca. The partnership was motivated by a shared commitment to improving population health. From new models of care and innovative financing mechanisms, PHSSR is looking to identify transferrable solutions to deliver better healthcare.

Innovation: Innovative solutions can help to speed and scale up the response to climate change. Hospitals can start using electric vehicles and ambulances in their fleet. When it comes to food, they can opt for local, organic and sustainable foods. And where possible, institutions can reduce, reuse and recycle without compromising patient safety. Opting for sustainable energy sources, such as solar or wind energy, can also help bring down costs and decrease their carbon footprint.

Incorporating innovative technology can significantly improve workflow efficiencies. As seen successfully during the pandemic, telehealth is helpful for appointments where physical exams are not required. Doctors and patients can use these platforms to decrease the amount of travel needed and reduce carbon emissions.

Green by design: The air we breathe, the light we are exposed to, and the noise we hear are all components of an indoor environment. Today, there is a need to design environmentally friendly healthcare facilities that are integrated with nature and actively promote healthier choices. Incorporating environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals, such as energy or carbon emission reductions inherent in the green building rating systems and certification requirements, ensure the buildings can promote health and well-being in the near term while preserving resources and protecting the environment. The facilities can reduce energy consumption through efficiency and conservation measures and use clean, renewable energy to run daily operations.

For instance, Cleveland Clinic in the U.S. is committed to addressing the intrinsic link between an individual’s health and environment. The hospital reportedly uses environmentally friendly technologies for lighting, ergonomics, and air and water quality that support the health of patients and communities. The organisation’s green building efforts have enabled it to reduce its facilities’ energy and carbon intensity by 25 per cent and 32 per cent, respectively, since 2010.


Healthcare is an essential service to society and delivering it sustainably will ensure that a good quality of life will be maintained in the coming years. The opportunities mentioned above are the first steps on the journey of sustainability. The transformation to a sustainable facility doesn’t happen overnight and requires planning and foresight. It requires a commitment to start now and to be engaged for the long term.

References available on request

This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today.

< Back to Management


Omnia Health Insights and its contributors share key insights into the obstacles the healthcare industry in the UAE and across GCC countries faces and the strategies leaders can implement to overcome these. Download the exclusive e-book [HERE]

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.