Green practice - a sustainable approach to general practice

Climate change threatens global health. The WHO and the Lancet Commission have repeatedly stated that climate change is the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century. But there is potential for improvement in this area.

Healthcare is a significant contributor to CO2 emissions, and in Denmark, the climate footprint from healthcare accounts for just over 6% of the total climate footprint, with the largest footprint coming from clinical activity, including the use of medical devices and medicine in general practice. Medicines account for almost a quarter of the total CO2 emissions from the healthcare sector according to a calculation by the National Health Service (NHS). Some medicines have larger climate footprint than others. For example, the footprint of a metered dose inhaler is significantly higher than that of a dry powder inhaler.

A sustainable, climate-friendly and safe alternative to traditional medicine could be non-medical prescriptions, including prevention and health promotion. Nanna Holt Jessen at the Research Unit for General Practice in Aarhus has a special focus on how to make general practice greener and more sustainable through research in the field. She also forms part of  the nationwide 'Green Practice' group under the Danish College of General Practitioners.

Inspiration from abroad

Great Britain has reduced its CO2 emissions by almost 20 per cent from 2007 to 2017 by focusing on sustainable health. This reduction has been achieved through a targeted purchasing policy and changes in prescribing patterns. They are working to become CO2-neutral by 2040.

The Royal College of General Practice (RCGP) has, together with Health Education England and others, developed a green toolbox, 'Green Impact for Health', which can help GPs reduce their environmental footprint. At least 700 medical centers in England are already in the process of becoming more 'green'.

In Ireland, they have developed the ’GLAS Toolkit’. In Sweden, two pilot practices in Värmland are reducing their CO2 emissions, as part of the 'Sustainable Vårdcentral' project, by changing the medicine prescriptions and reducing disposable materials.