Earth Day, occurring annually on April 22nd, is a celebration of the establishment of the modern environmental movement of 1970. This year’s theme, Restore Our Earth™, emphasizes the “natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems.” (1)
In honor of Earth Day 2021, Fullscript recognizes the important role that corporations, organizations, and individuals play in addressing the global climate crisis. Did you know that the healthcare industry is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, generating approximately 9% to 10% of total emissions per year? (3)
By leveraging the influence you have in your community, you can encourage your peers and patients to take part in preserving our planet for future generations. Keep reading to learn about the current global climate crisis and the small, actionable steps you can take to make an impact.
The current climate crisis
Increasing scientific evidence demonstrates the urgent need for climate change solutions. Since the 19th century, the earth’s average surface temperature has increased by 2.12°F (1.18°C). This increase is largely attributed to increased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and other human activities such as burning fossil fuels for electricity and transportation. (9)
The devastating effects of climate change can already be seen across the globe, including shrunken glaciers, rising sea levels, damaged animal habitats, and worsening weather events. If we continue on the same trajectory, our planet will likely experience more frequent droughts, wildfires, severe tropical storms, and other detrimental events. (10)
Human health is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Our food and water resources are entirely dependent on climate and weather conditions. Furthermore, increased earth surface temperatures and changing climate is expected to contribute to worsened air quality and increased heat-related illnesses, waterborne diseases, and zoonotic infectious diseases. (11)According to data provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2019, the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States include:
- Transportation: The transportation sector (e.g., airplanes, cars and trucks, ships) accounts for about 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
- Electricity production: Electricity, which is largely generated by burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, contributes approximately 25% of total emissions.
- Industry: The energy and resources required to produce consumer goods produces approximately 23% of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
- Commercial and residential: About 13% of total greenhouse gas emissions are generated by burning fossil fuels for heat and cooking and disposing of organic waste.
- Land use and forestry: Land used for agriculture and other purposes, as well as land management, contributes approximately 12% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
- Agriculture: The 10% of yearly emissions generated by agriculture comes from livestock, soils, and rice production. (18)
Most of us don’t have control over much of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by these major contributors. This is an issue requiring larger systemic change involving policies to address the climate crisis, corporate accountability, community organization, and collective action. However, that’s not to say that individuals don’t play an essential role in addressing climate change. Your voice and actions have the potential to influence others.
Reducing your carbon footprint: 6 tips for practitioners and their patients
Carbon footprint is defined as the total greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds) a person generates. In the United States and Canada, the average individual has an annual carbon footprint of 16.2 and 15.6 tons, respectively. (12) By incorporating the following tips into your practice, or encouraging your patients to take action, you’re taking small steps to help solve the climate crisis.
Utilize telehealth visits
When in-office visits aren’t necessary or feasible, telehealth appointments can provide a convenient way for patients to remain engaged with their practitioner and on track with their treatment plans. Virtual appointments are suitable for patients needing follow-up care that doesn’t necessitate a physical exam or other manual therapies. According to a 2010 study, conducting over 800 telehealth appointments over a six month period resulted in 185 fewer metric tons of CO2 equivalents in vehicle emissions. (8)
Safely dispose of unused supplements
If your patient’s protocol changes or they have expired supplements that have lost their potency, instruct them on how to safely dispose of unused supplements. You have several options when it comes to medication or supplement disposal. For example, many hazardous waste collection sites and local pharmacies accept unwanted supplements. Additionally, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) organizes local “Take Back Day” events that allow you to dispose of unused supplements or pharmaceutical drugs.
Flushing unused supplements and pharmaceutical drugs down the toilet is strongly discouraged by the EPA and FDA since they can contaminate sewage systems and later end up in rivers, lakes, or other parts of the water supply. (15)(19)
Did you know? According to a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, various pharmaceutical drugs, such as analgesics, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, antidepressants, beta-blockers, and oral contraceptives, were found in groundwater and drinking water sources. (13)
If you prefer disposing of your supplements from home, follow the steps outlined below.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle
Choosing to recycle has many benefits, including saving landfill space as well as reducing oil usage and carbon dioxide emissions. (5) Encourage your patients to recycle their empty supplement bottles as opposed to simply throwing them away.
When recycling plastic or glass bottles, make sure they’re clean, dry, and empty before disposing of them in a designated recycling bin. Keep in mind that items smaller than a credit card cannot be processed by most recycling equipment. For this reason, you should replace plastic bottle caps on their bottles before recycling. (2)
Your practice can play a role in waste reduction as well. Recycle clean paper and plastic products when possible, eliminate bottled water in your office, and reduce your paper and ink cartridge use by utilizing electronic medical records and an electronic prescription-writing system. Additionally, consider investing in reusable linens such as cloth gowns, drapes, and other linens. (6)
Did you know? According to the EPA, approximately 14.5 million tons of plastic containers were created in 2018–13.6% were recycled and over 69% of plastic containers ended up in landfills. (17)
Only buy what you need
Instruct your patients to only purchase the quantity of supplements that they need to last them for a period of time. Treatment plans can quickly change, and if a patient purchases too many bottles of a particular supplement at once, they may end up with excess product that can go to waste. Instead, provide your patients with detailed instructions that outline treatment plan duration and specific dosages so they can plan accordingly.
To simplify the process, Fullscript offers an advanced dosage feature that considers either supplier-suggested or your specific instructions and sends personalized refill reminders to your patients when it’s time to reorder. This can help minimize waste, while also ensuring that your patients remain adherent to their treatment plans.
Encourage alternative transportation methods
According to the EPA, the average passenger vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year. (16) Cut your personal CO2 emissions by utilizing public transportation, organizing a carpool program for your office, biking or walking to work, or allowing your staff to work remotely when possible. To encourage participation, organize a team-building activity such as a walk or bike to work challenge.
Choose food wisely
Animal agriculture is a major contributor to rising greenhouse gas emissions, due in part to mass deforestation and increased methane (CH4) production from ruminant animals. (18) You and your patients don’t have to give up meat to make a difference. Just slightly reducing your intake of meat and animal products or choosing protein from non-ruminant animal sources (e.g., poultry, fish), opting for “meatless Mondays,” and shopping at your local farmers market for locally-grown fruits and vegetables can be impactful. (14)
The United States is home to many large monocultures that rely on tillage practices, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides. (7) This prevalent method of farming reuses the same soil for multiple cycles, which leads to soil degradation, loss of nutrients in the soil, and a disruption in the soil’s microbial community. (20) To avoid the issues associated with monoculture crops, some farmers are adopting a more sustainable model of farming known as regenerative agriculture. The purpose of regenerative agriculture is to increase biodiversity and soil quality while avoiding many of the problematic practices used by most large-scale farming operations. (7) Regenerative agriculture practices benefit the environment through the sequestration (isolation) of carbon, a process that involves sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. (21)
The bottom line
Climate change is a major threat to global security and human health. Taking the necessary steps to address this fast-growing problem requires collective action, from individuals to small and medium-sized businesses to large corporations. Taking small, actionable steps to reduce your carbon footprint, as well as encouraging your peers and patients to do so, can have a lasting impact on our planet.
Fullscript’s climate commitment
Fullscript recognizes that human health reflects the health of our planet and addressing the climate crisis requires corporate action and responsibility, not just individual behavioral change. In response to the growing need for action, Fullscript is now certified Carbonzero as a carbon-neutral organization.
As of January 1st, 2020, Fullscript offsets approximately 3,364 tons of CO2 equivalents and will continue to offset emissions as the business grows. Fullscript’s climate commitment is separated into two phases, first measuring and offsetting emissions, then reducing emissions. Fullscript is also exploring renewable practices and incorporating sustainable materials to further reduce environmental impact. Carbon-neutrality is only the beginning.
To learn more about Fullscript’s climate commitment, visit the Fullscript blog.
- Earth Day Network. (2021, March 11). Restore our earth. https://www.earthday.org/toolkit-earth-day-2021-restore-our-earth/
- Earth Day Network. (2019, December 6). You’re doing it wrong: 7 tips to recycle better. Earth Day. https://www.earthday.org/youre-doing-it-wrong-7-tips-to-recycle-better/
- Eckelman, M. J., & Sherman, J. (2016). Environmental impacts of the U.S. health care system and effects on public health. PLOS ONE, 11(6), e0157014.
- Global Monitoring Laboratory. (2021). Carbon cycle greenhouse gases. https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/
- Hopewell, J., Dvorak, R., & Kosior, E. (2009). Plastics recycling: Challenges and opportunities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2115–2126.
- Kagoma, Y., Stall, N., Rubinstein, E., & Naudie, D. (2012). People, planet and profits: The case for greening operating rooms. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 184(17), 1905–1911.
- LaCanne, C. E., & Lundgren, J. G. (2018). Regenerative agriculture: Merging farming and natural resource conservation profitably. PeerJ, 6, e4428.
- Masino, C., Rubinstein, E., Lem, L., Purdy, B., & Rossos, P. G. (2010). The impact of telemedicine on greenhouse gas emissions at an academic health science center in Canada. Telemedicine and E-Health, 16(9), 973–976.
- NASA. (n.d.-a). Climate change evidence: How do we know? https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
- NASA. (n.d.-b). The effects of climate change. https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2019). Climate change impacts. https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/climate/climate-change-impacts
- Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2020, May 11). CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions
- Rodriguez-Mozaz, S., & Weinberg, H. S. (2010). Meeting report: Pharmaceuticals in Water—An interdisciplinary approach to a public health challenge. Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(7), 1016–1020.
- Rust, N. A., Ridding, L., Ward, C., Clark, B., Kehoe, L., Dora, M., Whittingham, M. J., McGowan, P., Chaudhary, A., Reynolds, C. J., Trivedy, C., & West, N. (2020). How to transition to reduced-meat diets that benefit people and the planet. Science of The Total Environment, 718, 137208.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2010). Dispose of medicines, vitamins and other supplements properly. https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi/P1007BCF.PDF?Dockey=P1007BCF.PDF
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021a, January 27). Greenhouse gas emissions from a typical passenger vehicle. https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021b, January 28). Containers and packaging: Product-specific data. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/containers-and-packaging-product-specific-data
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021c, April 14). Sources of greenhouse gas emissions. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). Medicines recommended for disposal by flushing listed by medicine and active ingredient. https://www.fda.gov/media/85219/download
- Wu, L., Chen, J., Wu, H., Wang, J., Wu, Y., Lin, S., Khan, M. U., Zhang, Z., & Lin, W. (2016). Effects of consecutive monoculture of pseudostellaria heterophylla on soil fungal community as determined by pyrosequencing. Scientific Reports, 6(1), 26601.
- Zomer, R. J., Bossio, D. A., Sommer, R., & Verchot, L. V. (2017). Global sequestration potential of increased organic carbon in cropland soils. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 15554.