Determining the Carbon Footprint of a Hospital Bed


Researchers from the University of Waterloo recently conducted the first-ever assessment of a Canadian hospital to determine its overall environmental impact and specific carbon emission hotspots.

During the 2019 fiscal year, the researchers focused on a hospital in British Columbia and identified energy and water usage, as well as the purchase of medical products, as the hospital’s primary hotspots. These factors accounted for over half of the hospital’s yearly environmental footprint, equivalent to approximately 3500-5000 tons of CO2. Interestingly, the carbon footprint of a single hospital bed is comparable to that of five Canadian households.

This groundbreaking method offers a comprehensive and detailed examination of hospital emissions data. This information is crucial for administrative leaders to identify and prioritize areas for improvement in order to meet their environmental commitments.

“In our work, we often discover that the largest environmental footprints are found in unexpected places. As the saying goes: out of sight, out of mind,” explained Alex Cimprich, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development. “Our goal is to expose hidden environmental footprints so that we can effectively manage them.”

To calculate the carbon footprint, the researchers assessed thousands of unique products purchased by the hospital. They used a combination of statistical sampling and carbon intensity calculations, which determine the CO2 equivalent per dollar spent on the sampled products. This approach differs from common environmental assessments that provide rough overall estimates, as it utilizes a bottom-up approach.

“The results suggest that hospital sustainability initiatives need to expand their focus in order to achieve deeper emissions reductions,” stated Cimprich. “While patient and product transportation, as well as hospital waste, are visible areas of environmental concern, the supply chains of medical products might have much larger environmental footprints, despite being less apparent.”

Future research could further examine the identified hotspots, and this new approach could also be applied to other hospitals or healthcare facilities, including primary care or long-term care, as well as organizations outside the healthcare industry.

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