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Planning for Planetary Health

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VCH initiates first‐of‐its‐kind integrated strategy for planetary health

The healthcare system doesn’t work in isolation. To address the industry’s intersections with and impacts on environmental systems, VCH is the first health organization in B.C. to integrate planetary health as a strategic priority. The VCH Transformation Office team is spearheading the creation and execution of a robust roadmap to planetary health in partnership with the three key organizational pillars; Sustainable Clinical Services, Environmental Health Protection (Population Health), and Energy and Environmental Sustainability (Facilities and Real Estate).

But what does “planetary health” mean?  In 2015 it was defined, as “the achievement of the highest attainable standard of health, wellbeing, and equity worldwide through judicious attention to the human systems—political, economic, and social—that shape the future of humanity and the Earth’s natural systems that define the safe environmental limits within which humanity can flourish. Put simply, planetary health is the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends”*

The planetary health priority will drive an improved understanding of the connections between natural systems and health‐care services, while this report is speaking specifically to emissions, the planetary health portfolio as a whole will take a more comprehensive look at the health authority’s connections to the ecosystems that we’re impacting. It will prioritize how VCH can conserve natural systems and mitigate damaging emissions.

Planetary health in VCH will be grounded in three foundational principles: reducing demand for health services (e.g., prevent disease, promote health), matching the supply of health service to demand and optimizing the efficiency and environmental performance of health care delivery. This work is not only about climate change, but will also have broader impacts on environmental sustainability, including benefits relating to chemical pollution, freshwater resource use, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification and nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

For VCH’s Regional Medical Director of Planetary Health, Dr. Andrea MacNeill, transforming how the health care system interacts with human and natural systems is a necessary imperative.

If health care were a country, it would be the world’s fifth highest emitter of greenhouse gasses,”

says Dr. MacNeill. “It accounts for 4.9 % of all global emissions—the same as the aviation industry.”

An ambitious and fundamentally collaborative initiative, Planetary Health in VCH will bring together multiple stakeholders and teams. The Energy and Environmental Sustainability team supports development of sustainable and resilient facilities. The Environmental Health Protection team works with community partners to minimize environmental impacts and support resilience in the wake of climate events. The Sustainable Clinical Services team ensures clinical decisions and processes limit their negative environmental impacts. The VCH Transformation Office provide support and manage this organization‐wide transformation as a system level strategy.

Planetary Health Care Framework
Planetary Health Care Framework (click for more details)

As there is no precedent for this type of work in Canada, VCH is excited to build out a plan that breaks down silos between teams and innovates on how VCH supports environmental health alongside the health of the populations it serves. Strategies to address planetary health will be key in driving improved clinical decisions that have limited environmental impact, in reducing emissions and waste and in minimizing risks and vulnerability to climate events. It’s an important first step into imagining, and enacting, future‐forward health care services.


As the roadmap to planetary health at VCH evolves, we will be in a better position to embed climate actions, including facility emission reductions, across our clinical services and communities.