What is Sustainable Healthcare?


Sustainability is a robust concept that has proven its worth across a range of different industries including energy, agriculture, forestry and even construction and tourism.

Contemporary healthcare in western countries is presently dominated by use of pharmaceutical drugs—and most indicators would suggest that these approaches have had very limited value in dealing with some of the greatest scourges facing human health, including chronic diseases, psychiatric diseases and even certain infectious diseases.

From a cost/benefit perspective, pharmaceutical-based approaches to healthcare do not fare favourably and a sea change is required if mainstream western healthcare is to deal with the ever increasing burden on the healthcare system, particularly given that this burden will be exacerbated by an ageing population.

The dichotomy between complementary & alternative medicine (CAM) and orthodox/allopathic healthcare approaches has led to increased vilification of protagonists of each approach. The use of scientific methods of evaluation that do not lend themselves well to CAM approaches have meant that the ‘medical establishment’ has been able to increasingly marginalise CAM approaches. This has occurred while the establishment has provided no significant improvement in its offering to the majority of the population that is either forced to accept or choose to accept pharmaceutical-based medicine as the most effective and scientifically-validated form of medicine.

Encouraging a paradigm shift that requires all forms of healthcare to be bound by principles of sustainability is one of the surest means of providing a level playing field for all healthcare modalities which encourages those approaches that are compatible with the complex biological and energetic systems of which are bodies are comprised.

Sustainability principles, including those applying to engineering and design, should also be applied to healthcare facilities. To read an evaluation of the state-of-the-art on this subject, read an article by Dominic Stalker, a work experience science student who worked with the ANH during the summer of 2008 entitled Engineering sustainability into hospitals.

Definition of Sustainable Healthcare

The ANH first defined sustainable healthcare in 2006 in the UK practitioner journal Nutrition Practitioner. The definition is as follows:

“A complex system of interacting approaches to the restoration, management and optimisation of human health that has an ecological base, that is environmentally, economically and socially viable indefinitely, that functions harmoniously both with the human body and the non-human environment, and which does not result in unfair or disproportionate impacts on any significant contributory element of the healthcare system.”


Executive Summary of the ANH Sustainable Healthcare Campaign

For more than two decades the orthodox (allopathic or western) healthcare establishment has vigorously attacked the scientific basis, efficacy and safety of the diverse range of modalities befitting approaches that are commonly placed under the banner of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Simultaneously, the CAM community, the natural products industry, health freedom organisations and large numbers of consumers and protagonists of CAM, have argued that these attacks are unjustified and have reciprocated by exposing the apparent lack of efficacy and poor safety record of orthodox healthcare.

These differences of opinion are so deep-seated that the polarity between the two contrasting approaches has become increasingly reinforced. The relative lack of resources within the CAM community, the natural products industry and the health freedom movement, by comparison with the pharmaceutical industry and orthodox medical system which it supports, means that it is by and large proving very difficult to improve the acceptability of CAM modalities in mainstream healthcare.

All the available indicators suggest that orthodox healthcare, which is dominated by interventions with new-to-nature pharmaceutical drugs, is not sustainable. ‘Evidence-based medicine’ (EBM) is increasingly being used both as a means of justifying pharmaceutical intervention as the world’s dominant approach to healthcare and its ever-wider application to discredit or even outlaw particular CAM approaches.

The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) proposes that the application of the principles of sustainability to healthcare may be one of the most effective ways of altering the perception of established and emerging CAM modalities from the vantage point of government authorities and the current medical establishment. In addition, such an approach could significantly assist a transition in mainstream healthcare that is characterised by improved take up of biologically compatible modalities, as found within CAM. Such a transition would, among other things, allow for much greater use of preventative approaches, especially among children, young adults and non-diseased sub-populations, better diagnosis of disease, widespread adoption of lifestyle and nutrition-based approaches, greatly reduced dependence on new-to-nature medications and marked changes in medical training. With the identification of scientifically established criteria for sustainability in healthcare, only those approaches meeting the criteria stipulated would be accepted. Sustainability has become one of the key technological drivers in a range of other industries where social or environmental degradation has been implicated, and it is incongruous that the principles of sustainability have yet to be applied to healthcare.

The ANH, its affiliates and strategic partners are well set to help trigger the transition towards sustainable healthcare. The transition will continue to require funding of independent research in academic institutions, extensive public and government-targeted awareness campaigns and the establishment of scientifically monitored pilot programs designed to demonstrate both feasibility and sustainability.

A transition towards sustainability would also help to eliminate the existing polarity between orthodox healthcare and CAM approaches and would inevitably prefer those approaches that function harmoniously with biological systems and human metabolism, rather than those that oppose them.

** Sustainable Health articles on this page provided by ANH-Europe.