The environmental footprint of health care: a global assessment

Manfred Lenzen, Arunima Malik, Mengyu Li, Jacob Fry, Helga Weisz, Peter Paul Pichler, Leonardo Suveges Moreira Chaves, Anthony Capon, David Pencheon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

297 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Health-care services are necessary for sustaining and improving human wellbeing, yet they have an environmental footprint that contributes to environment-related threats to human health. Previous studies have quantified the carbon emissions resulting from health care at a global level. We aimed to provide a global assessment of the wide-ranging environmental impacts of this sector. Methods: In this multiregional input-output analysis, we evaluated the contribution of health-care sectors in driving environmental damage that in turn puts human health at risk. Using a global supply-chain database containing detailed information on health-care sectors, we quantified the direct and indirect supply-chain environmental damage driven by the demand for health care. We focused on seven environmental stressors with known adverse feedback cycles: greenhouse gas emissions, particulate matter, air pollutants (nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide), malaria risk, reactive nitrogen in water, and scarce water use. Findings: Health care causes global environmental impacts that, depending on which indicator is considered, range between 1% and 5% of total global impacts, and are more than 5% for some national impacts. Interpretation: Enhancing health-care expenditure to mitigate negative health effects of environmental damage is often promoted by health-care practitioners. However, global supply chains that feed into the enhanced activity of health-care sectors in turn initiate adverse feedback cycles by increasing the environmental impact of health care, thus counteracting the mission of health care. Funding: Australian Research Council, National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e271-e279
Number of pages9
JournalThe Lancet Planetary Health
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020

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