Environmental sustainability in anaesthesia and critical care

Forbes McGain, Jane Muret, Cathy Lawson, Jodi D Sherman
British Journal of Anaesthesia 2020, 125 (5): 680-692
The detrimental health effects of climate change continue to increase. Although health systems respond to this disease burden, healthcare itself pollutes the atmosphere, land, and waterways. We surveyed the 'state of the art' environmental sustainability research in anaesthesia and critical care, addressing why it matters, what is known, and ideas for future work. Focus is placed upon the atmospheric chemistry of the anaesthetic gases, recent work clarifying their relative global warming potentials, and progress in waste anaesthetic gas treatment. Life cycle assessment (LCA; i.e. 'cradle to grave' analysis) is introduced as the definitive method used to compare and contrast ecological footprints of products, processes, and systems. The number of LCAs within medicine has gone from rare to an established body of knowledge in the past decade that can inform doctors of the relative ecological merits of different techniques. LCAs with practical outcomes are explored, such as the carbon footprint of reusable vs single-use anaesthetic devices (e.g. drug trays, laryngoscope blades, and handles), and the carbon footprint of treating an ICU patient with septic shock. Avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle, and reprocess are then explored. Moving beyond routine clinical care, the vital influences that the source of energy (renewables vs fossil fuels) and energy efficiency have in healthcare's ecological footprint are highlighted. Discussion of the integral roles of research translation, education, and advocacy in driving the perioperative and critical care environmental sustainability agenda completes this review.

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