Planetary health is the science of the relationship between the health of our communities and the health of the environment. Dr. Andrea MacNeill is an international thought leader and VCH’s leading researcher and change-maker for planetary health. She is utilizing her expertise to design health systems that promote both human and environmental health, from transforming hospital food systems to driving innovation in medical device design. Here are her tips on what we can all do to create a more sustainable world.  

Dr. Andrea MacNeill

Rethinking hospital food 

Food contributes to approximately 10% of a hospital’s carbon footprint. And up to 70% of food served in hospital is discarded, creating copious amounts of food waste and exacerbating patient malnutrition. This presents a unique opportunity. My team is conducting a trial of a diet designed to minimize food-related emissions, reflect the cultural diversity of VCH’s population and to support local BC growers and producers. 

Adopt a local, plant-forward diet 

Adopting a plant-forward diet is one of the single most impactful climate actions an individual can take. Sourcing these foods locally and in season further reduces their climate impact. Keep an eye out for local options in your preferred grocery store or head out to a farmers’ market on the weekend!  

Reducing travel emissions, advancing equity 

Virtual care platforms have gained widespread use during the pandemic and both patients and providers have acquired a comfort level with remote visits. Virtual care is an important component of health equity in ensuring access to specialist care, no matter where you may be located. My team is working to establish care pathways and parameters for the optimal use of virtual platforms for high-quality, low-carbon, equitable care. 

Transition to the five R’s 

Reuse, Refurbish, Repair, Reprocess and Repurpose. These are all principles of a circular economy, in which the full value of materials is extracted before disposing of them. Natural resources are finite, and our current dependence on single-use consumables is unsustainable. These five R’s are applicable to all of us as consumers and are good guiding principles for sustainable living. 

Health care systems are still reeling from the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet climate change poses the specter of increasingly frequent and severe disruptions to health services. VCH is adopting a visionary stance in both strengthening current structures against future disruptions as well as embracing radical action to mitigate our own contribution to ongoing climate and ecological breakdown. This is the most foundational work we can do to achieve our vision of healthy lives in healthy communities. 

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