How the Climate Crisis Can Catalyze Change in Healthcare

How the Climate Crisis Can Catalyze Change in Healthcare

Ideas for improving outcomes for people and the planet.
Sergio Fregoni
Matthew Higham
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read time:
4 minutes

In the rapidly-evolving landscape of global health, we find ourselves at a critical juncture where the health of individuals, communities, and our planet are inextricably linked.

Healthcare is responsible for 10 percent of global material extractions and 4.4 percent of emissions, contributing significantly to the very environmental issues that are increasingly impacting human health. Paradoxically, 80 percent of health outcomes globally are driven by non-clinical factors—the environmental conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age. These compounding factors present a unique opportunity for leaders within and beyond the health industry to rethink their approach, moving beyond traditional care models to embrace more holistic, preventative, and sustainable strategies.

At IDEO, we believe that the climate crisis can be more than a threat—it can also be a catalyst for innovation. By shifting our healthcare focus upstream—from last-mile care to first-mile health, ie, creating the conditions that make everyday life healthy by design—we can create solutions that not only improve individual and community wellbeing, but also contribute to a healthier planet. This approach doesn't just mitigate risks and improve health outcomes; it opens new avenues for growth and value creation.

So, what might this future of climate-conscious healthcare look like? During Climate Action Week in London, we asked a group of leaders and creatives to combine future inspiration, nature strategies, and building blocks of first-mile health to come up with ideas that could lead to better results for people and planet. Here are some of our favorites:

Converge urban planning and healthcare 

Imagine a world where public green spaces are not just amenities, but prescribed interventions for both physical and mental health. Already, these spaces serve as natural air purifiers, reducing urban heat islands while providing accessible areas for exercise and community connection. Health insurers might offer incentives for time spent in these green spaces, recognizing their role in preventing chronic diseases and improving overall community wellbeing.

Bridge empathy and health with wearable technology

Picture a wearable device that allows users to experience the physical sensations of others—perhaps those with disabilities or health conditions different from their own. This technology could revolutionize patient care, medical education, and public health campaigns by fostering deeper empathy and understanding. It might also encourage more sustainable behaviors by allowing people to viscerally experience the health impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations.

Make community rituals a cornerstone of preventative healthcare

Consider creating re-localization rituals, which would bring communities together to build shared culture, empathy, and social cohesion. These events could incorporate nutrition education, physical activities, and community health moments, all while fostering the kind of strong social bonds that are crucial for mental health, quality of life, and community resilience in the face of climate challenges.

Bring the fashion and health industries together around sustainability

Envision a partnership where health tech companies and fashion brands co-create wearables that monitor health while promoting sustainable consumption. These products could adapt to users' changing health needs over time, reducing waste in both the fashion and medical device industries. They might even incorporate materials that actively purify the air or neutralize pollutants, turning personal style into a form of environmental stewardship.

Give children a voice in health and environmental policy

Picture a Ministry of Children (or, in the U.S., a Department of Children) with real executive decision-making power on issues of health and climate, working for and with children to understand and serve the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens. This radical approach to inclusivity could lead to policies that prioritize long-term health outcomes and environmental sustainability, breaking free from short-term thinking that often dominates current governance models.

These scenarios may seem far-fetched, but they illustrate the kind of bold, systemic thinking required to address the intertwined challenges of health and climate. They also highlight the immense opportunities for growth and innovation in this space, and the importance of bringing diverse groups together in service of solving these problems.

For health industry leaders, embracing this climate-conscious approach to healthcare isn't just about corporate social responsibility—it's a strategic imperative. Companies that lead in this space will be better positioned to:

  • Tap into new markets: As consumers become increasingly aware of the health impacts of climate change, there's growing demand for products and services that address both personal and planetary health.
  • Attract and retain talent: Purpose-driven initiatives that tackle major global challenges can be a powerful draw for top talent, particularly among younger generations.
  • Mitigate future risks: By investing in preventative, sustainable healthcare models now, companies can better prepare for the health challenges that climate change will inevitably bring.
  • Drive innovation: The constraints imposed by climate considerations can spark creativity, leading to breakthrough technologies and business models.
  • Enhance brand value: Companies that demonstrate leadership in addressing climate and health issues can build strong, positive brand associations that resonate with consumers and partners alike.
  • Cut costs: Not only will sustainable strategies lead to better health outcomes that save money, they may also lower regulatory costs.

As we navigate the Climate Era, the health industry has a unique opportunity—and responsibility—to lead the way in creating a more sustainable, resilient future. By focusing on upstream, preventative solutions that address both human and planetary health, we can unlock new sources of value while making a profound positive impact on the world.

The future of health is not just about treating illness—it's about nurturing wellbeing in its broadest sense. We look forward to joining health industry leaders in stepping up and embracing this challenge. The health of our businesses, our communities, and our planet depends on it.

Looking to catalyze change in business or healthcare? We’d love to connect.

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Sergio Fregoni
Executive Director
Sergio helps organisations design and scale digital, climate & circular solutions to better serve modern human needs.
Matthew Higham
Matthew focuses on the use of design as a powerful tool for change in the healthcare sector. He partners closely with organisations to understand their needs and works tirelessly to build the right systems, approaches, and structures to translate these needs into superlative products and experiences.
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