CleanMed Europe Day 1 : What is Health and what is Health Care here for?

CleanMed Europe (@CleanMedEurope) is the only European conference on sustainability within the health care sector, addressing the environmental impact of the health care sector on a local, regional, and global level. 

I’m here in Oxford, England because part of my role as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pioneer Portfolio (@PioneerRWJF) is to be pioneering myself, which meant embarking on an experience I wouldn’t normally have, related to health, of course. They are my sponsor, although I did present a poster featuring the environmental stewardship work of Kaiser Permanente (see: How a health system responds to Climate Change through a Total Health Approach | Ted Eytan, MD)

And that’s the key, the impact of health care on the environment is related to health. When I think of myself, I say I am focusing on the “H” part of “HIT” :).

I came to CleanMed Europe because this particular event is being hosted by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (@sushealthcare) and Healthcare Without Harm  (@HCWithoutHarm) both semi- (or fully) iconic organizations in this field, and I wanted to learn about innovation in this field that I could bring back to the United States. And as I have always said, if someone is doing something better, I would like to know about it.

Today’s events in my mind were a lot about framing this issue and ourselves as health advocates. At the same time, I learned that knowing the right thing to do is complex – paper napkins or linen napkins? Depends on how you dry them (I think). Emitting carbon via hospital care or via virtual care? That one’s a little easier for me – I’d rather a patient emit carbon doing something they love with people they love than not doing something they love in a hospital.

I also learned a lot more about the ecosystem of sustainability in health that I could only do in rooms involving live interaction.

We’re all the converted(?)

This was a sentiment expressed multiple times today, and when I asked others if they thought this was so, they agreed with the statement. I think that minimizes the learning opportunity that can happen across health systems and international borders….

For example, I learned about the British Medical Assocation’s program in Fair Medcial Trade (@fairmedtrade) (see: BMA – In depth: Fair Medical Trade). As far as I know, there is not an analogous program in the American Medical Association (at least Google says there isn’t, feel free to correct me), and yet, the images that Dr. Mahmood Butta, an ENT surgeon, showed of the production of important medical supplies including scalpels, gloves, and masks are haunting. See this video for more.

Also, innovations like the NHS Forest (@nhsforest), which supports health estates in installing carbon sinks (otherwise known as trees), are not replicated in the United States, yet.

I also emerged with a lot of ideas about engaging clinicians that I hadn’t considered before based on what I’m seeing here. Cambridge University has a sustainability leadership program (see: Sustainability Leadership Programme for the Health Care Sector | Leading and Maintaining a Sustainable Health System | CPSL – Cambridge Programme for Sustainibility Leadership). 

And then there’s Gundersen Health (@GundersenHealth), based in Wisconsin, USA. CEO Jeffrey Thompson, MD, was here, speaking on Gundersen’s plans to be energy independent by 2014. Leading health organizations, who are working to improve health, are working in this area, too.


As I continue to discover, GlassMakesFriends. This short series shows that environmental stewardship also brings a diversity of people and professions who are working to improve health. It’s one of the reasons it’s exciting to learn more and a great entry point for any clinician or health system interested in prevention and total health. And why wouldn’t they be, it’s what health care is here for.

These photographs were taken at the world-famous Ashmolean Museum (@AshmoleanMuseum) in Oxford. Enjoy.

Oh, I got my hashtags slightly mixed up today – if you do a search, use #GreenHC (Green Healthcare) or #CleanMedEurope, to get more links and information.


Ted Eytan, MD