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 cause environmental pollution. The Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare sets out agreements to make the sector more sustainable, for instance by reducing its carbon emissions.

Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare

As a result of climate change and environmental pollution, more and more people need healthcare and different types of health problems are emerging. In the Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare, health and care institutions, government authorities and companies have set out agreements to keep not only people, but also society and our planet healthy in the long term. And to avoid causing even more pollution or health problems.

The 3rd Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare aims to:

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

The 3rd Green Deal was published during National Climate Week 2022 (in Dutch) and will apply from 2023 until the end of 2026. Companies and organisations in the health and care sectors can sign up to the Green Deal throughout this period.

Agreements set out in the Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare

Signatories to the Green Deal agree to pursue 5 objectives in addition to their own ambitions and goals. The 5 overarching objectives are: 

  • Promote the health of healthcare consumers and providers 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 to:
    • promote healthier, more sustainable, plant-based diets for healthcare consumers and providers; 
    • apply new insights and experience to ensure a health-promoting environment in health and care facilities and their immediate vicinity. 
       
  • Increase knowledge and awareness of the sector’s environmental and climate-related impact
    It’s important that care workers understand the relationship between human activity, climate change, the environment and health. To this end:
    • the health and care sector will actively participate in the social 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
    In order to be carbon-neutral by 2050:
    • health and care organisations will strive for energy-efficient buildings, transport and procurement, and aim to use renewable energy; 
    • from 1 July 2023, large health and care organisations must have roadmaps that show how they are working to reduce their carbon emissions through local and other measures. One way is by reducing the energy consumption of hospitals and long-term care facilities. Hospitals and long-term care facilities each have their own roadmap (in Dutch).
       
  • 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 (PPEs). 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 the sector’s total waste produced. In addition, the volume of unsorted waste in 2026 should be 25% lower than in 2018. 
    To achieve this the sector will:
    • incorporate sustainable and circular principles into their procurement policies, such as purchasing reusable products 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:
    • prescribe and issue medicines economically, that is, not more than the number of doses required;
    • reduce discharges of radiographic contrast media into wastewater;
    • continue implementing the chain approach to reducing pharmaceutical residues in water.

Roles of Green Deal partners

The Sustainable Healthcare programme brings together central government, sector associations, health and care providers and sustainable care ambassadors. Each of them has their own role to play in making the health and care sector more sustainable.

Central government

Central government works to bring the various parties together so they can learn from one another and make clear agreements. Central government also plays a role in the Green Deal (in Dutch) by helping remove obstacles to sustainability for health and care institutions.

The Sustainable Healthcare project team at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport issues a sustainable healthcare newsletter (in Dutch) with programme updates. The project team also organises events, such as the annual conference on sustainable healthcare that takes place each October. You can contact the project team by emailing duurzamezorg@minvws.nl or through X (@duurzamezorg).

Dutch commitments at the 2021 UN Climate Conference, Glasgow 

At the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow in November 2021, health minister Hugo de Jonge said that the climate crisis is also triggering a health crisis. The Dutch health and care sector is already preparing to deal with climate-related health issues. Increased flooding, for instance, can cause disease and injury, while heat waves increase illness and death among vulnerable groups.

The minister wants to support the sector and encourage a shift towards sustainable healthcare. To help achieve this, he has endorsed the global call to action on climate change. The minister and state secretary have pledged their commitment to sustainable and resilient health systems

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’re supporting care institutions by sharing knowledge and best practices.

Care providers

The care providers that have signed up to the Green Deal are drawing attention to the steps they’re taking on sustainable healthcare. For example, they use sustainability labels to show that their buildings or operational management processes are sustainable. They also share best practices with other institutions.

Sustainable healthcare ambassadors

More and more people in the health and care sector are signing up to be sustainable healthcare ambassadors. They are leading the way forward, and helping promote the ideas set out in the Green Deal on Sustainable Healthcare.