Sustainable healthcare

Global healthcare accounts for 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The surgical suite is a unique carbon hotspot within the hospital setting. It is three to six times more energy intensive than a clinical ward.

Recognising a need for action, the RCSI Sustainable Surgery Group (a sub-group of the RCSI Council) was established in 2022. In 2024, RCSI launched a roadmap for sustainability in surgery. The Sustainability Principles and Practice in Surgery guidelines reviews best practice and seeks to enhance the collective knowledge of surgeons and influence the behaviour of surgical teams towards delivering a leaner and low-carbon model of surgical care.

Key recommendations include:

  • Sustainable practice must become a core competency for all members of the multidisciplinary surgical team.
  • Establishing Green Teams and a Green Theatre Champion at each hospital site will facilitate implementation of the Green Theatre Checklist.
  • Education and training of healthcare staff in the principles and practice of delivering sustainable surgical care through programs endorsed by our professional bodies are required.
  • Graded reduction in reliance on single-use items in all surgical sub-specialties is essential.

Integration and recognition

In Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, the Health Service Executive (HSE) commits to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The Royal Colleges of Surgeons Intercollegiate Green Theatre Checklist acts as a template for implementation of sustainable practice in the operating room before, during and after surgery. RCSI recommends that this checklist is adopted within the Irish setting.

RCSI’s ongoing efforts have been recognised with Beacon Status in Sustainable Healthcare Education. This award is given by the UK’s Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH), one of the world’s foremost institutions for sustainable healthcare and practice. This achievement recognises RCSI’s commitment to integrating a more environmentally, socially and financially sustainable approach to healthcare teaching.

RCSI is the only institution in the Republic of Ireland to hold Beacon Status. The University joins the ranks of other higher education institutions committed to sharing best practice in sustainable healthcare through the integration of sustainability into health professions education.