Published on 1 May 2024

    NUS Centre for Sustainable Medicine aims to decarbonise healthcare and develop climate-resilient health systems.

     When you think about the industries that contribute to carbon emissions, the ones that come to mind are usually power, transport, manufacturing, or agriculture. But did you know that the healthcare industry generates a significant amount of carbon? 

    Healthcare contributes up to 8 per cent of global carbon emissions in fact — more than shipping and aviation combined, according to Prof Nick Watts, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Medicine at National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine). While energy consumption is a part of it, the most carbon-intensive aspects of healthcare come from the hospital’s supply chain through the transport and production of goods and services.

    To make matters worse, climate change could take an even greater toll on healthcare systems. This is due to an increase in air pollution and allergens causing even more health issues, from respiratory and cardiovascular disease to infectious diseases and mental health challenges.

    NUS Centre for Sustainable Medicine – the first of its kind in Asia – was set up with a few goals in mind:

    1. Transform medical education and prepare future leaders to be at the forefront of the response to climate change. This includes embedding sustainability into the foundations of undergraduate medical school and developing a first-in-the-world “Masters of Sustainable Medicine”.
    2. Pioneer clinically-relevant and solutions-focused research designed to support high-quality, low carbon care.
    3. Support health policy makers and hospital administrators across the world to accelerate the transition to net zero healthcare.

    Accelerating the healthcare journey towards net zero

    The call for change is overwhelming. According to a survey of 200 healthcare professionals in Singapore conducted by the Centre, four out of five want to work in an environmentally-sustainable healthcare system, while nine in 10 want Singapore to be a champion of low-carbon healthcare and take steps towards net zero.

    Prof Watts also sees the Centre as a place to develop future leaders in healthcare. This means an updated approach to medical education, with sustainable clinical practice at the core of everything that is taught.

    Another part of the journey involves providing advanced educational opportunities for senior health and sustainability professionals, giving them the necessary tools to support clinical and policy decision-making. The Centre will also support Singapore’s national net zero agenda by providing support for health policymakers and health systems responding to climate change across Asia.

    What’s on at the NUS Centre for Sustainable Medicine

    Efforts to reach the net zero healthcare goal are ongoing with initiatives such as:

    1. Healthcare Carbon Footprint Masterclasses
      Featuring two of the world’s leading expert in life-cycle assessment, Dr Scott McAlister and Assoc Prof Forbes McGain, from the University of Melbourne, the in-person workshop provided fresh insight into the methods underpinning carbon footprint studies in the healthcare setting and gave participants the skills needed to analyse the growing number of life cycle assessment studies appearing in medical journals.

    2. A Clinical Sustainability Workshop
      Delivered by Dr Cassandra Thiel (from NYU Grossman School of Medicine), this in-person workshop explored Life Cycle Assessment-based research to quantify emissions in clinical care, and discussed model health systems from around the world and the challenges of implementing sustainability in this unique field.

    3. Master’s in Sustainable Medicine
      In the works is also a master’s programme and more training opportunities for health professionals involved in clinical decision-making at all levels. By improving efficiency in tackling carbon emissions from healthcare, patients also end up with better quality care, says Prof Watts.

    For more information about the Centre for Sustainable Medicine and its upcoming events, please visit https://medicine.nus.edu.sg/cosm/ 

    In consultation with Prof Nick Watts, Director, Centre for Sustainable Medicine, NUS Med.

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