The health care industry has been working hard to reduce its carbon footprint and is finally taking a proactive approach to sustainability and health. However, recent research shows that health care still contributes around 5% of global emissions — and that number is rising.

Additionally, the health care industry produces millions of tonnes of waste which ends up in landfills either in the United States or abroad. This is particularly concerning in high-income countries like the U.S., which produce around 0.5kg of hazardous waste per bed every day, leading to global waste management issues.

As a nurse, you may have noticed the waste produced by single-use plastics or carbon emissions in your workplace, but maybe you aren’t quite sure what you can do to help.

Fortunately, there is plenty that we can all do to reduce waste and combat climate change. Additionally, as a nurse, you’re in a great position to inspire others to value personal sustainability, too.

Energy Consumption

Our global dependency on energy isn’t going away. However, we do need to reconsider how we source our energy and should strive to use renewable energy whenever it is possible. Unfortunately, according to Yale’s Dr. Jodi Sherman, health care is lagging behind other industries that are taking a more progressive approach to combat their emissions.

As a nurse, you are well-positioned to advocate for renewable energy sources in your workplace and beyond. The best way to do this is to follow the example of Gloria E. Barrera, MSN, RN, PEL-CSN, who works as a certified school nurse just outside of Chicago. Barrera is an active member of many climate advocacy groups like the Nursing Collaborative on Climate Change and Health and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.

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By following in the footsteps of nurses like Barrera, you can find groups of like-minded health care professionals who want to take an active role in fighting climate change. This helps amplify the impact of your voice in your workplace and community, as you will be able to invite guest speakers and bring expert advice to your work.

Single-Use Plastics

Single-use plastics are wreaking havoc on our planet and its wild spaces. A recent UN report found that 85% of total marine waste is plastic, and experts predict that we will dump between 23 and 37 metric tonnes of plastic into our ocean every year by 2040.

This is a global issue and it can be hard to see how you or your workplace can make a difference. But, you can start at home by considering your own relationship with single-use items. That’s because only 9% of the plastics we use at home are recycled, and end up in landfills or our natural environment.

You can begin by making simple changes like packing your lunch in Tupperware and using your own to-go mug for coffee and tea. But, if you feel comfortable doing so, it might be worth raising the issue to decision-makers at your hospital to see if non-essential single-use plastics can be reduced in your workplace. This will make a significant impact that extends beyond your personal use and can give a great example for your patients to follow.

Lead By Example

As a nurse, people look up to you, and your actions carry meaning. This responsibility is a little unfair — after all, you’re just doing your job. But, it does give you a great opportunity to create meaningful change amongst those who will follow your example. So, if you have the time and energy, consider making a few holistic, sustainable changes to your lifestyle at home.

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You can start by sourcing sustainable goods and materials. The easiest way to do this is to buy from local sellers who produce their goods in smaller batches. You can also search online via sites like Etsy for people who create their wares using recycled or sustainable materials. Following this, you can reconsider the way you dispose of your waste and can find creative solutions like composting, repairing instead of discarding, and upcycling.

These personal sustainability choices are meaningful in their own right. But, you can maximize their impact by leveraging social media and online platforms to your advantage. For example, you might consider starting a podcast or blog dedicated to combating climate change and can find plenty of examples of other nurses who have used their position to help save the planet.

Conclusion

As a nurse, you’re in a great position to start making personal sustainability choices that will leave a lasting impact on your workplace and community. That’s because the people you work with and serve look up to you, and may choose to follow in your example. Leading a sustainable lifestyle might seem daunting at first, but you can make it easier by connecting with climate advocacy groups like the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments who can support you and your climate-conscious choices.

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