Many people are often surprised to learn that the healthcare system is one of the largest emitters of CO2 in the world, responsible 4.4 percent of total emissions. In highly industrialized countries like Canada and the United States, it is closer to ten percent of national emissions. To put that in context, healthcare produces more carbon emissions than the shipping or aviation sectors. 

The reason for this is clear – healthcare is energy-intensive. Hospitals, clinics, and labs often operate 24/7 year-round and have very specific heating and cooling requirements for clinical operations and patient comfort. Hospitals consume two-and-a-half times more energy than commercial real estate, spending nearly $9 billion per year according to the American EPA Energy Star program. 

Governments around the world have recognized the reality of climate change and begun putting policies in place to help address it. Given that, you might expect carbon emissions from healthcare would be declining with the growing global battle against climate change. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. One study found that greenhouse gas emission in the US healthcare system rose by 6 percent from 2010 to 2018, reaching 1,692 kg per capita in 2018. That is the highest rate among industrialized nations. 

It’s clear there is work to be done. 

Cutting Carbon Emissions 

The good news, however, is there is considerable momentum toward cutting energy consumption and carbon emissions in healthcare.  

The US Department of Energy has challenged healthcare providers to dramatically cut energy usage in the coming years. In Canada, organizations like The Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare and Greening Healthcare are bringing together a wide variety of stakeholders to combat the environmental effects of healthcare facilities, recognizing its impact both on the global climate and on the health and wellbeing of individuals. SickKids Hospital in Toronto, for example, recently released its comprehensive sustainability plan.  

There are many ways to cut energy consumption and carbon emissions in a healthcare setting – improving the energy efficiency of clinical equipment, adding on-site renewable generation, improving insulation, changing lighting and so forth. 

But reducing the amount of energy required for heating and cooling might be the most impactful in the near term and help accelerate the hospital’s journey to Net Zero. The World Economic Forum identified focusing on energy efficiency as one of the top ways the healthcare sector can cut carbon emissions. Heating and cooling are huge consumers of energy. A Greening Healthcare study found that the biggest energy and emissions savings potential is found in thermal energy use.  

Almost every hospital uses a building automation system or building management system to run its heating and cooling system (HVAC). These systems have been around for decades but are generally not engineered to handle the volume of data produced by modern HVAC systems, data that can be used to optimize performance. Another solution is needed to deliver results and move the needle on energy consumption. 

Optimizing the building’s HVAC performance can see significant reductions in energy consumption – and the resulting carbon emissions associated with it. Done properly, it is a solution that doesn’t require time-consuming or expensive upgrades or take years to see meaningful results. Instead, it works with existing equipment and significantly boosts their performance. 

And oh, it cuts costs too. 

There are different ways to optimize HVAC performance. SHIFT Energy uses a patented, cloud-based, algorithm-powered software solution that brings energy management intelligence to bear on automatically optimizing air handlers, chillers, and boilers, cutting energy consumption and carbon emissions by up to 20 percent. Our Energy Optimization Engineers have worked on deployments throughout North America and have a particular expertise in helping hospitals improve their energy performance. We also produce GRI-302 and GRI-305 compliant data to help hospitals track and manage their carbon emissions.  

Interested in improving your hospital’s energy and carbon performance? Let’s talk.