• May 7, 2024

This article is part of a series on the future of architecture and how it can drive innovation in healthcare environments.

Nearly 5% of the world’s net carbon emissions come from the healthcare sector. If it was a country, it would be the fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet. This highlights a striking contradiction where a system meant to protect and promote health contributes directly to the greatest health threat of our century: Climate change. 

Reports like those from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and Dunsky Energy + Climate Advisors, commissioned by the Association pour la santé publique du Québec (ASPQ), have shown that cost-effective solutions can be implemented to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems—a pledge made by fifty countries at COP26.

Question is: How can architecture support this ambitious goal and help transform the sector in a sustainable way?


Reconnecting nature and care

Achieving net zero emissions isn’t just an environmental concern—it’s a public health issue as well. As the international NGO Health Care Without Harm points out, “direct climate impacts… have health consequences that will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and marginalized populations and increase in intensity over time.”

Healthcare institutions have a social responsibility to urgently respond to this reality and help lead the transition to a greener, more virtuous economy. Given that most of the healthcare sector’s emissions directly come from its buildings, an increasing number of designers, scientists and healthcare practitioners are exploring new ways of designing and operating hospitals to reduce their energy demands, increase their efficiency and flexibility, and improve the overall quality of care.

These transdisciplinary dialogues aim to reshape hospitals as positive healing spaces that better integrate with their surroundings to benefit patients, healthcare professionals, communities, and the environment alike. This approach calls for a shift towards adaptability and resilience, allowing nature to reclaim its role as a therapeutic element.

“Decarbonizing healthcare provides us with an opportunity to rebuild the relationship between the environment and high-quality care, one that’s been gradually broken down in recent decades. This means moving away from ‘all things air-conditioned’ and towards more bioclimatic and biophilic concepts,” says Antoine Buisseret, Design Director & Director of Market Intelligence in Healthcare, and a driving force behind the initiative Care+Design.

“This entails adding gardens, for example, to provide fresh air and new uses, bringing greenery into buildings, and favouring natural ventilation and heat recovery systems. It creates a virtuous cycle which makes hospitals a vector for health in the broadest sense of the term.”

Harnessing the power of design

The clear connection between health, the environment, and carbon necessitates a design approach that extends beyond the goal of carbon neutrality typically pursued by traditional ‘green building’ initiatives. It should strive to foster a genuinely regenerative impact across all aspects of hospital design, encompassing interior spaces as well as the urban or natural landscapes in which they are situated—and this holistic perspective is what drives our NET POSITIVE™ approach.

“In Quebec, LEED certification serves as a benchmark for healthcare projects. However, for us, it’s more of a starting point to completely rethink the interior and exterior designs of healthcare environments from an integrated bioclimatic viewpoint,” explains Loïc Angot, Practice Leader in Sustainability.

Citing the Integrated Cancer Centre of the CHU de Québec as an example, Loïc emphasizes the importance of increasing greenspace, which is often neglected. Its presence is crucial not only for capturing CO2, preserving biodiversity, and preventing heat islands, but it also plays a significant role in patient recovery and enhancing the well-being of users and broader communities.

Taking action now for everyone’s benefit

By prioritizing clean, renewable energies, implementing efficient energy management solutions, and adopting sustainable design principles, the global healthcare sector can reverse the trend and become a model of carbon emissions reductions. These actions would have a domino effect: Fewer emissions means less pollution, which leads to fewer hospitalizations and deaths, and lower resource expenditures and costs in turn—ultimately resulting in a much-needed reduction of pressure on healthcare systems.

“A sustainably designed healthcare space sends a powerful message: It’s a testament to the importance we place on improving individual and public health, preserving the environment, encouraging healthy habits, and ensuring quality of life for all,” asserts Antoine.

“Hospitals must be a leading example of all these things.”


Interested in learning more? Join us at our next panel discussion to explore strategies and solutions surrounding healthcare facilities’ accelerated decarbonization (please note the event will be held in French).