A PSNA Environmental Health Committee Update

Small Steps for Reducing Environmental Impact

Peggy Slota, DNP, RN, FAAN – Chair, Environmental Health Committee


At the October 2017 PSNA annual conference, I presented current facts on climate change (Environmental Advocacy in a Time of Uncertainty: Your Personal Advocacy Plan). Human activity, or anthropogenic activity, both directly and indirectly impacts the environment as it contributes to global warming through the consumption of fossil fuel resources, environmental degradations (i.e., deforestation, biodiversity losses, and excess food), and manufactured products in the waste stream. Manufactured products that can have a toxic effect on the environment include cleaning agents, technology, leather, paint, paper, plastics, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products.

The healthcare industry is a major contributor to air, water, and soil pollution. In a recently published study, negative environmental and public health outcomes attributable to the healthcare industry were calculated using a public health life cycle assessment model (Eckelman & Sherman, 2016). The authors reported the following healthcare sector impact on air pollution emissions in 2013 compared to national totals: (1) acid rain (12%); (2) greenhouse gas emissions (10%); (3) smog formation (10%); (4) air pollutants (9%); and (5) to a lesser extent, ozone depletion and air toxins. The potential impact on public health is significant.  Indirect damage to health relating to pollution from healthcare activities are unreported and unrecognized by the public (Eckelman & Sherman, 2016).

There are many opportunities for industry improvement related to the healthcare industry and individuals. In the healthcare industry, significant gains could be realized through energy savings and waste reduction. RNs can become aware of products’ life cycles in their facilities, the agency’s plans for sustainability, and how individuals can make a difference.

Individuals can reduce their carbon footprint. Approximately 40% of an average American’s carbon footprint is related to their direct use of energy. The remaining 60% is indirectly impacted by things we buy and consume. For more information, visit https://carbonfund.org/reduce/).

The Zero Waste movement helps individuals assess their environmental impact and improve their choices as consumers. Valuable online resources include: https://www.goingzerowaste.com/, http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/10-ways-to-adopt-a-zero-waste-lifestyle/, and https://zerowastehome.com/.

Small steps in lifestyle changes can lead to big change. For example, individuals can assess the plastics in their home. There are currently 5 trillion pieces of plastic litter in the ocean (https://www.theoceancleanup.com/). How can you reduce your dependence on plastic? Start by keeping reusable shopping bags in your car, carry a reusable coffee mug for drink purchases, use glass or stainless steel containers for food storage, consider packaging when making purchases, and carry a reusable water bottle rather than purchasing bottled water (almost 20 billion plastic bottles are tossed in the trash each year). When you have met your first goal, choose another.


Eckelman, M., & Sherman, J. (2016). Environmental impacts of the U.S. health care system and effects on public health. PLOS ONE, 11(6): e0157014. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0157014