When I was asked to give a presentation at the Surviving Climate Change roundtable, it was the first time I had really ever given any thought, or time to research, on the question of reducing energy consumption in health care. As a family practice physician, I have worked for 20 years in community health centers. Because the mission of my work has been to provide health care to un-derinsured and uninsured people, I have spent much of my life thinking about improving health care access while reducing costs.
Now that I have researched energy consumption in health care, I understand that the solutions for improving health care access, reducing costs, and reducing energy consumption and greenhouse emissions in health care are much the same. In the United States, we have a for-profit health care system. In order to solve all of these problems in health care, we need a coordinated, single-payer, universal health care plan in this country.
Hospitals are probably the largest consumers of energy in the health care field. According to a statement released on July 23, 2008 by the US Department of Energy (DOE), in 2007 hospitals spent more than $5 billion on energy costs alone. Hospitals use 836 trillion BTUs of energy annually and produce more than 30 pounds of [CO.sub.2] per square foot of space--an energy intensity that is more than two and a half times higher than the consumption and [CO.sub.2] emissions of commercial office buildings. In order to reduce these numbers, the DOE has started a program called EnergySmart Hospitals.
Even within the current structure of health care, the DOE has demonstrated that it is possible for existing hospitals to lower their energy consumption by 20--30%. Most of the solutions for this modest (but significant) reduction are simple. In a typical hospital, lighting, heating and hot water account for more than 60% of total energy use.
Hospitals can install occupancy sensors in rooms and on computers. They can install higher efficiency lighting. They can adjust thermostats to reduce heating and cooling in unused rooms. Modern detergents and bleaches allow laundering of biohazard-contaminated fabrics at 120[degrees]F instead of the traditional 160[degrees]F.
Hospitals also use and discard large quantities of petroleum-based processed and transported products, ranging from gels and lubricants to plastic dinnerware, syringes and IV tubing. Large sets of disposable operating room materials will be...