More sustainability in the health and care sector

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities use a lot of energy, food and materials, which means they also contribute to climate change and cause environmental pollution. The new Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare sets out agreements to make the sector more sustainable, for instance by using fewer materials and reducing carbon emissions.

Objective of the Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare

Central government has agreed the Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare with stakeholders, including sector associations, research institutions and the Dutch Banking Association.

The Green Deal aims to ensure that the health and care sector benefits not only people but also our planet in the long term, and does not cause more pollution or health problems. Climate change and environmental degradation have an impact on health, both increasing and changing health needs.

This Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare 3.0 aims to:

  • achieve a shift towards green, climate-neutral health and care;
  • emphasise prevention and focus more on factors that enhance people’s health;
  • reduce the sector’s negative effects on climate and the environment.

The Green Deal was published during National Climate Week 2022 (in Dutch) and applies from 2023 until the end of 2026. More than 300 companies and organisations, both within and outside the health and care sector, have already signed up to the Green Deal and new signatories are always welcome.

Agreements set out in the Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare

Signatories to the Green Deal agree to implement measures and pursue objectives under 5 different themes, in addition to their own ambitions and goals.

The 5 main themes are:

  • Promote the health of patients, clients and health workers through better nutrition, and environment and lifestyle interventions
    To improve people‘s physical and mental health, health and care organisations and the government have agreed, among other things, to:
    • promote healthier, more sustainable, plant-based diets for patients, clients and health workers;
    • apply new insights and experience to turn health and care facilities and their immediate vicinity into health-promoting settings.
  • Increase knowledge and awareness of the sector's environmental and climate-related impact
    It is important that health and care workers understand the relationship between human activity, climate change, the environment and health. Some of the actions to this end are:
    • the health and care sector will actively participate in the wider debate on climate change and pollution;
    • sustainable healthcare and Planetary Health will be integrated into medical and healthcare training;
    • ​​​​​​​health and care organisations and insurers will address prevention and sustainable healthcare in their strategic documents (such as procurement policy).
  • To be carbon-neutral by 2050
    By 2050 all health and care organisations must be carbon-neutral. Agreements include:
    • The sector as a whole will aim to achieve a 30% reduction in carbon emissions, on average, from buildings and energy consumption by the end of 2026, taking 2018 as its reference year.
    • Before 1 July 2024 major care providers will draft a road map, to be approved at administrative level, setting out a future-oriented plan to make their properties more sustainable. See the road map for the care sector in Dutch (January 2020) and the draft road map for the curative sector in Dutch (January 2020).
    • From 2023, care providers with more than 100 staff will keep track of the emissions generated by staff journeys. They will also draft a transport and mobility plan specifying targets and measures to reduce carbon emissions and make journeys more sustainable.
  • Reduce use of materials and resources as well as residual waste
    The health and care sector uses a lot of raw materials and products such as medical devices and personal protective equipment (PPE). The sector will take steps to reuse more materials and reduce the use of new materials and resources where possible. By 2030, the volume of unsorted residual waste should be no more than 25% of total waste produced by the sector. In addition, the volume of unsorted waste in 2026 should be 25% lower than in 2018.
    ​​​​​​​To achieve this the sector will:
    • tap existing knowledge and experience on  adopting circular practices and using raw materials efficiently, and translate this into action;
    • include sustainability and circularity as objectives of procurement policy. For instance, by purchasing reusable products and services where possible;
    • reduce the use of diapers and incontinence pads.
  • Reduce the environmental burden of pharmaceuticals
    Pharmaceutical residues in surface and groundwater are an inevitable consequence of using medicines. The manufacture of medicines also has environmental and climate-related effects. To reduce the environmental impact of medicines, the sector and the government will, among other things:
    • prescribe and issue medicines economically, that is, not more than the number of doses required;
    • encourage patients to take their medication as prescribed (medication adherence);
    • reduce discharges of radiographic contrast media into wastewater;
    • continue implementing the chain approach to reducing pharmaceutical residues in water (in Dutch).

Roles of Green Deal partners

Central government, sector associations and care providers are all working together to make the health and care sector more sustainable. Each of them has their own role to play in this process.

Central government

The Sustainable Healthcare Programme of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport helps parties implement the agreements and achieve the objectives of the Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare. The programme works to bring the various parties together, so they can learn from one another and make clear agreements.

Sector associations

Care providers are usually affiliated with one or more sector associations, which are working to make their members aware of the importance of sustainability. Associations are also establishing working groups in which care providers can work together. And they are supporting care institutions by sharing knowledge and best practices.

Care providers

The care providers that have signed up to the Green Deal are showing what steps they are taking towards sustainable healthcare. For example, they can obtain sustainability accreditation for their buildings or operational management processes. They also share best practices with other institutions.