World Ophthalmology Congress 2018: Masterclass in Environmental Sustainability

Tanya Harris's picture

Did you know that healthcare creates 10% of the carbon emissions in the US [1] , 7% of emissions in Australia [2] and 5% of the total national emission in the UK [3] ?

“If the US health care sector were itself a country, it would rank 13th in the world for GHG emissions, ahead of the entire U.K.” [4]

Mind boggling isn’t it? When you consider the impact and the opportunity of Healthcare across core sustainability issues it can be a little overwhelming. How do you start to take steps to #savinglivessustainably?

Five speakers from diverse organizations, geographic locations and subject matter expertise converged on the World Ophthalmology Congress 2018 to share our research and evidence, examples and outcomes of sustainable healthcare practices to the clinicians and conference attendees from 146 countries on how they can help their practices and organisations work towards greening eye health.

Ingeborg Steinbach from the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare in Oxford, UK opened the Masterclass by sharing insights into “What is healthcare doing toward sustainability?” and how sustainability concepts have been applied to healthcare in general and ophthalmology, specifically.

Dr. Cassandra Thiel, the leading researcher on environmental sustainability for ophthalmology and an Assistant Professor at New York University took the attendees through current research on the environmental footprint of cataract surgery at facilities in the USA, UK, and India, and ongoing projects to develop sustainability monitoring tools for ophthalmic services worldwide. Her interactive workshop prompted a great deal of discussion amongst the attendees as they learnt to see their own services through a systems lens, how they could effectively apply triple bottom line tools and techniques as concepts and shared those solutions with their neighbours. 

Dr. R. D. Ravindran demonstrated what one of the most successful global eye health models, Aravind Eye Care System, India, has employed to redesign their patient flow and surgical processes in order to increase throughput and decrease environmental footprint.

The Australian based global procurement manager from The Fred Hollows Foundation, Tanya Harris, challenged the room to consider how much their choices matter by sharing a snippet of the complexity healthcare procurement teams face, how those impacts directly relate to some of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ideas on where to start with sustainable procurement initiatives.

Neil Murray from RANZCO provided a fantastic example Fred Hollows New Zealand delivered using eco-design to address unreliable infrastructure challenges in the Solomon Islands. Before moving to the innovative power generation case studies in Africa, provided by Dr. Hannah Faal, Adjunct Professor of International Eye Health at the University of Calabar and Teaching Hospital and Chairman of the Board for the Africa Vision Research Institute Sustainability eco-infrastructure.

Each presenter agreed the challenge to green our healthcare systems is not insignificant, however the size of the task was not the focus…. the consistent theme was transformative collaborations creating positive change. Knowledge sharing through joint research initiatives, informally with peers and partners, in forums and subject specific websites, the global sustainability community is mobilized to support the healthcare sector to minimize its impact on the environment and consequently broaden positive impacts beyond the end recipient or the organization to society as a whole.

Want to know more? The presenters have given permission to share their presentations, they can be accessed here.

[1]   Eckelman M J, Sheman J (2016). Environmental Impacts of the U.S. Health   Care System and Effects on Public Health. PLoS ONE 11(6): e0157014

[2] Malik A, Lenzen M, McAlister S, McGain F. The carbon footprint of Australian health care. Lancet Planetary Health 2(1): e27-35

[3] Sustainable Development Unit. (2016). Carbon Footprint update for the NHS in England.

[4] Eckelman, M. J. and J. Sherman (2016). "Environmental Impacts of the U.S. Health Care System and Effects on Public Health." PLoS ONE 11(6): e0157014.

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