Sustainability’s promise for business opportunity and healthcare change

  • Posted on 18.10.2012

Sustainability’s promise for business opportunity and healthcare change


Momchil Jelev

WW Environment, Health & Safety, WW Government Affairs & Policy, Johnson & Johnson


When we speak about healthcare in Europe, the word ‘sustainability’ is used often. From the outset of the economic crisis in 2008, policymakers, ministries of health, customers and payers all have focused on sustainable financial systems and sustainable healthcare systems – often as separate paths to achieve results. As budgets are shrinking, innovative ways to maintain current social and healthcare systems for the long term must be employed. At CleanMed Europe, a conference that brings environmental and healthcare issues together on the same agenda, I was pleased to see that a broader alternative discussion is emerging—one that marries financial and systemic sustainability in healthcare.

This year, CleanMed returned to Europe for the first time since 2005. Johnson & Johnson  were among the sponsors (which included SterilMed, Stryker, and BD) and were pleased to attend the conference hosted in Malmo, Sweden and talk with our customers and colleagues about how we are helping to make hospitals and healthcare more sustainable. We also shared a recently-published white paper based on recent findings which revealed that our customers across the globe have begun and will continue to demand more sustainable healthcare products.

Key Take-Aways from CleanMed 2012

I saw two main themes running through three days of workshops, debates, panels and informal chats – first, the  ‘tactical’ aspects of bringing sustainability to healthcare; and second — the ‘systemic’ shifts required to meet the current and future challenges of healthcare and environment, while resolving the conundrums that challenge Europe’s healthcare and financial systems.

Regarding tactical considerations, CleanMed Europe showcased a number of innovations that are making hospitals and healthcare products more environmentally friendly:

  • hospital design
  • space and lighting
  • PVC-free flooring
  • reprocessed single-use devices
  • sustainable products that do not compromise safety and efficacy
  • hospital environments that promote faster patient recovery times.

On the strategy side, the challenge of sustainability is much broader than greening hospitals or products. Several speakers were convinced that the largest healthcare challenge of the 21st century will be climate change. However, conference participants, inspired by the insightful interventions of Sonia Roschnik (NHS Sustainable Development Unit), agreed that the scope of this issue requires more systemic thinking about the fundamental ways in which we organize healthcare today. 

What stuck with me was the idea that ‘the most sustainable hospital is the one that is never built‘, and the same can certainly be said about healthcare products. Transitioning from a healthcare system based on cure to one based on prevention is the best way to ensure the goal of saving our planet is fully aligned with that of saving people’s lives. Such a paradigm shift will also ensure that our healthcare systems are financially more sustainable while keeping people healthier for a longer period of their lives. In many ways, this challenged participants’ views of healthcare:

  • How do we move away from a cure-based system, if current financial incentives in the system are pointing towards the benefits of treating sick people?
  • How do we truly adopt prevention and lifestyle change to ensure that less people go to hospitals (of course there will always be a need for some cure as well!)
  • How can industry shift from producing products for cure to also offering services for prevention? And would that shift align with the industry’s profit imperatives, including pressure from shareholders?

Many of these questions will probably remain unanswered in the short term, but the critical step of opening the debate has been taken. We all left from CleanMed convinced that the only way to succeed in moving the debate further is to embed sustainability thinking in all discussions about the future of healthcare both in Europe and globally. Eucomed and EDMA have stepped into this space, and brought a range of stakeholders together at this year’s MedTech Forum to continue the discussion on the future of European healthcare. Value-based innovation must play a key role if we are to provide the health services our population needs and sustainability, in the broadest meaning of the term, will have an integral role to play in this transition.

For more on sustainability and healthcare, see J&J’s recently published white paper intended to inform healthcare procurement professionals, executives, administrators and providers about procurement trends for more sustainable and greener products in the healthcare industry.

– Momchil Jelev, Manager of Government Affairs and Policy EMEA, Johnson and Johnson

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