Living on Borrowed Time

Today, August 13th, marks Earth Overshoot Day 2015. It is an initiative lead by Global Footprint Network and marks the date when the Earth’s demand for ecological resources and services starts to exceed what the planet can generate in that year. This deficit in resources comes about as we use up all of the ecological resources that will be produced this year and start to deplete the earths reserve of resources, while at the same time releasing huge amounts of harmful waste, such as carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

A Growing Problem:

In 2000, Earth Overshoot Day fell in October. In 2015, just 15 years later, the day is now in August and this year, humanity will use resources equivalent to those produced by 1.6 planets. If this trend continues, we would need the resources equivalent to 2 planets by 2030 and Earth Overshoot Day would be moved forward to the end of June.

Although there are other factors that contribute to the overall ecological footprint of the planet, carbon emissions from fossil fuel use are a major problem and currently, the planet’s carbon footprint makes up 54% of the world’s total ecological footprint. This should give us serious cause for concern about how we continue to deplete our natural resources and fail to fully embrace alternative, renewable energy sources and reduce waste and emissions.

This December’s climate talks at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) 21 in Paris will provide the perfect opportunity for world leaders and governments to set ambitious carbon emission reduction targets and reverse the trend. If global carbon emissions alone are reduced by at least 30% from today’s level by 2030, World Overshoot Day would be pushed back to mid-September in that year. It would also limit global warming to 2° Celsius over pre-industrial revolution levels, the widely agreed-upon target suggested by climate scientists.

Photo: MingjiaZhou via Flickr CC

The European Healthcare Sector’s Role:

Together with their supply chains, hospitals are estimated to account for roughly 5% of the EU’s CO2 emissions per annum and the healthcare sector currently accounts for about 10% of GDP in many EU countries.[1] It is clear that the sector has a huge role to play in reducing global CO2 emissions and mitigating climate change.

As the Paris climate talks fast approach, now is the time to step-up our efforts to mobilise the healthcare sector to become a leading voice in encouraging world leaders and governments to implement policies to phase out fossil fuels and reduce humanities ecological footprint.

Globally, many individual hospitals and healthcare centres have already made progress in reducing their own carbon footprint but there is still much more work to be done. As such a large producer of CO2 emissions and representing a large chunk of many European nations GDPs, the European healthcare sector can send a powerful message to governments and policy-makers on the lead up to COP 21.

What you can do to help:

As a healthcare professional, procurer for the healthcare sector, or support staff member or manager in a hospital or healthcare centre, you have the opportunity to bring about real change and lead by example. There are a number of ways you can get started on reducing the sector’s ecological and environmental impact, including:

  • Find out about how you can introduce cleaner energy strategies in your hospital by watching our webinar.
  • Become a member of our Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network.
  • Sign your hospital, hospitals or healthcare centre up for our 2020 Healthcare Climate Challenge.
  • Find out how the EU healthcare sector can reduce it’s carbon footprint within the EU’s legislative framework by reading out Reducing the Climate Footprint Report here.
  • Watch Robin Guenther’s TEDMED 2014 talk, ‘Why Hospitals are Making us Sick’ here.


 - Aidan Long, Communication & Information Officer, HCWH Europe


[1] LCB HEALTHCARE (2011). Low Carbon Buildings in the Healthcare Sector. State of the Art Report, April 2011.

(Preview Photo Credit: RoyceBair via Flickr CC)