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Environmental Sustainability in Physiotherapy: Can We Be More ‘Green’?

sustainability in physiotherapy
Image by Bela Geletneky from Pixabay

It is perhaps a bit of an understatement to say that being ‘sustainable’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ are hot topics in the media these days. Whether it’s suggestions on what to eat, what to wear, or what to buy, there’s advice on just about everything. After all, everything we do impacts our planet in some way, whether it’s at home, at work, or out and about. With this in mind, I wondered about how sustainable, or environmentally friendly, we are at work in the world of Physiotherapy… after all, the average Briton will spend 3,507 days of their life at work! Therefore, our habits and practices at work make up a large part of our individual environmental impact over our lifetime.

A recent paper by Maric and Nicholls (2019) highlights that, as healthcare becomes more technologically sophisticated, utilising more natural resources and generating increasing amounts of pollution, greater attention needs to be focused on offering a more environmentally conscious healthcare. The healthcare sector’s contributions to air pollution emissions therefore suggests that healthcare may be having a greater impact on climate change and ecological degradation than was previously realised (Maric and Nicholls, 2019).

Image by Mabel Amber, from Pixabay

Sustainability in Physiotherapy

I am lucky to work in an environment where we actually practice ‘environmental physiotherapy’ on a daily basis – we recommend physical activity. Whether it’s doing exercises at home, which is relatively ‘low-carbon’, or walking, running or cycling to work, thus reducing the need for carbon-emitting transport.

We are also more aware of the physical and mental health benefits of spending time outdoors, or ‘green-space exposure’, and how this affects recovery. This in turn motivates some people to move out of the artificial environments that gyms present, and away from the energy and environmental costs required to run them.

However, in many cases, gym settings and equipment are a necessary part of a patient’s journey to full recovery; they contribute significantly to some physiotherapy/health and wellbeing establishments’ income generation; and they are simply some people’s preferred place to exercise. Therefore, aside from promoting the outdoors, we must also consider what other things we can be doing to help the environment and reduce our carbon footprint.

6 ways physiotherapists can become more ‘green’

Physiotherapy is generally a fairly low-tech-dependent profession, and places an emphasis on empowering people to independently manage their symptoms. Therefore, it is recognised as being one of the more eco-friendly approaches to healthcare. However, here are just a few other ways that we can reduce our environmental impact further:

  1. Reduce the use of non-disposable products – I am the first to admit that we physios use a lot of rubber-based products, such as theraband, gym/Swiss balls, spikey balls, yoga mats, etc, and rubber is typically not recyclable. However, there are eco-friendly companies out there that produce these items from more sustainable sources, and even from reusable/recyclable materials.
  2. Consider what products we use for marketing merchandise – is it useful, can it be recycled, or will it inevitably end up in landfill? Here at Central Health we have our reusable shopping bags – just pop in to one of our clinics to bag yours! We also use digital business cards.
  3. Ensure there are separate recycling bins to general waste bins, and that the recycling waste is collected and disposed of correctly – in many places, recycling waste still ends up in landfill, despite our best efforts!
  4. Consider our energy usage – turn lights off in rooms not being used, turn the computers off and switch off at the wall at the end of the day, rather than just leaving them on standby.
  5. Consider our means of travel to the physio clinic and our individual carbon footprint – can we walk, take public transport, cycle, etc instead of driving. This not only has benefits for the environment, but it benefits us and our health as well! (Click here to read more about the health benefits of walking).
  6. Expanding the role of Skype/video conferencing/video consultations, when indicated – these are great ways to bring us together faster and potentially lessen the costs to the environment.

We ALL need to do our bit

Whichever way you look at it, these are pivotal and exciting times and they could do with a bit of help. I am hopeful that the physiotherapy profession will continue to embrace a culture of environmental sustainability, and we at Central Health Physiotherapy are right behind it. And you too can be a part of it – support your local Physiotherapist and help identify physiotherapy as an environmentally friendly practice and contribute to the future of our beautiful planet.

When considering your health, there are plenty of resources online to help guide you in becoming more environmentally conscious. An example is My Green Doctor, who has created a handy leaflet titled “Climate Change and your health: what can you do?” – click here for the link.

Sustainability in Physiotherapy

There is definately a trend towards more and more physiotherapy companies being more mindful of their carbon footprint. If we want to preserve the furture of the planet for generations to come then now is the time to take action.

I have set up a company aimed at teaching physiotherapist and other health professionals to be more sustainable in their practice. If you would like to find out more and learn about how we could help you, your staff, company and our children of the future then please visit The Green Physio. We look forward to helping you manage your sustainability in physiotherapy practice.

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