Major environmental benefits to be gained with more sustainable healthcare

20 May, 2019

Sweden tops the charts when it comes to sustainable life science solutions. There are considerable opportunities to develop a new large export area. However, deep cross-industry collaboration will be required for this to be achieved.


There was no misunderstanding Daniel Eriksson’s introductory message at a recent Sahlgrenska Science Park workshop focused on the vision for the world’s most sustainable healthcare.

Everyone involved in life science, and at all different stages of care, have a large job to do reduce the burden on the environment.

“Healthcare has a huge environmental impact that people do not tend to think about. Everything we recognise as environmental problems in other industries are also issues here. There are also many other environmental issues unique to the healthcare industry,” says Daniel Eriksson, CEO at the Nordic Center for Sustainable Healthcare (NCSH).

This applies both in Sweden and internationally. The list of examples is long: pharmaceutical residues in sewage entering groundwater, mercury emissions, silver emissions from the development of analogue X-ray images, nitrous-oxide emissions from childbirth care, pharmaceutical packaging, disposable materials, infectious waste, lack of purification from pharmaceutical production, leakage from X-rays and chemotherapy, and so on…

“There are major problems around the world. Sweden has taking a leading role in many areas,” says Daniel Eriksson and mentions the digitialisation of X-ray images as a distinct example.

Swedish life science and medtech are advanced in an international perspective, according to Daniel Eriksson. However, the comparison with other industries in Sweden is not as flattering.

“Swedish hospitals are built to be energy efficient. The forensic psychiatric clinic in Lund even provides a positive energy contribution. The building is a power source. This is perceived as science fiction in other countries.”

“But at the same time as we reduce energy consumption in buildings, new medtech products increase energy consumption.”

There is significant potential to develop more sustainable solutions in life science and healthcare but, to succeed, a cross-industry approach is required.

Sustainable construction and cleantech need to be supplemented with a broad sustainability perspective supported by the IT industry as well as digital services and products during the major transformation that healthcare is undergoing.

Facts: The Nordic Center for Sustainable Healthcare is run by the TEM foundation. Vinnova has financed a feasibility study to lay the groundwork for a vision where Sweden shall have the world’s most sustainable healthcare by 2030. The workshop at Sahlgrenska Science Park was carried out in collaboration with the project Inn2Health, where six West Swedish science parks have a unique cross-industry collaboration with technology and innovations based on needs in healthcare.