Effective Tips to Reduce Radiology's Carbon Footprint

Radiologists can do much to lessen the specialty's substantial environmental impact

Jonathan Gross, MD
Kate Hanneman, MD, MPH
Julia Schoen, MD, MS
Cameron Nosrat
Preeti Sukerkar, MD, PhD

This is the first in a series of articles addressing radiology's role in climate change. Read part two here

Climate change caused by fossil fuel use is widely considered the greatest public health threat of our time, according to Jonathan Gross, MD, associate professor of radiology at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Dr. Gross helped present an education course on what radiologists can do to lessen climate change at RSNA 2022, along with co-presenters Kate Hanneman, MD, MPH, associate professor at University Medical Imaging Toronto at the University of Toronto, and Julia Schoen, MD, MS, resident in the Department of Radiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. The session was sponsored by the RSNA Professionalism Committee, which Dr. Hanneman chairs. She is also lead author of an upcoming special report on this topic that was published in Radiology.

“As physicians, it is our responsibility to spread the word about the grave threat that human-induced climate change poses to our collective health, as it is projected to lead to many millions of deaths in the coming decades,” Dr. Gross said.

Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, making the planet warmer. The global health care system is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions due to its intensive use of resources, accounting for 4% to 10% of total emissions in developed nations, noted Dr. Hanneman. Overall, the majority of greenhouse gases emitted by the health care sector come from manufacturing, transporting, using and disposing of purchased goods; however, the sources of emissions differ among individual medical specialties. The impact of radiology on greenhouse gas emissions deserves attention, according to Dr. Hanneman.

“Radiology is a major contributor to health care greenhouse gas emissions due to high energy consumption of scanners and other electronic devices, climate control systems for heating and cooling— particularly in interventional radiology suites—and waste related to procedures,” Dr. Hanneman said.

Cameron Nosrat, medical student at the University of California, San Francisco, presented an education exhibit on climate change and radiology at the RSNA annual meeting, along with Preeti Sukerkar, MD, PhD, clinical assistant professor of radiology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA, and the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Health Care System.

“Unfortunately, as utilization of imaging studies continues to increase, the impact of radiology on greenhouse gas emissions will also increase,” Dr. Sukerkar said. “Climate change will also alter endemic disease patterns and impact radiology workflow, especially in settings of severe weather, and will negatively affect imaging-related health equity.”

Watch Dr. Hanneman discuss ways radiologist's can less the specialty's environmental impact:

Conserving Resources
According to Dr. Gross, energy used to power imaging equipment—especially CT and MR units—is the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions from diagnostic radiology. He offers the following tips for reducing the energy used for imaging:

» Optimize scheduling to minimize the amount of time machines are idle.

» Prioritize energy efficiency when purchasing equipment.

» Use lower energy modalities such as US whenever possible.

» Power down equipment when it is not in use.

Computers and workstations should be set to enter idle or standby mode after short periods of inactivity and should be shut down during off hours, he said.

In addition, Dr. Gross recommends that interventional radiologists use the following strategies:

» Work with facilities managers and engineers to allow temperature and humidity to drift in a wider range during hours when the IR suite is not in use.

» Streamline procedure packs to include only supplies that are most likely to be used.

» Advocate for use of equipment designed to be sterilized and reused, rather than items meant to be used only once and then thrown away.

“Ask your vendors if they have data on their environmental impact and how you can partner together to work toward environmental sustainability,” Dr. Schoen said. “Let’s envision the world where we come together at the 11th hour and stop designing products and services that hurt our patients, communities and families, and act on climate change.”

Watch Dr. Sukerkar discuss her RSNA 2022 education exhibit on climate change and its impact on radiology's workflow, patient's disease patterns and overall health equity.

Other Ways to Make a Difference
Physicians and others can help protect the environment in their personal lives in various ways. Lifestyle choices such as biking or taking public transportation can help decrease emissions.

“Increasing the proportion of plant-forward meals that one consumes can have a substantial impact on greenhouse gas emissions, given that the climate impact of plant-based foods is approximately 10 to 50 times smaller than that of animal products,” Dr. Hanneman noted.

Physicians can also join climate advocacy groups such as the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health and contact elected officials to express support for bills that protect the environment.

The challenges posed by climate change can feel overwhelming, and it is easy to feel like individual actions have no impact, given the scale of the problem, Dr. Gross noted.

“But given the size of the health care system and its massive contribution to climate change, any actions we take to decrease emissions from our practices can have outsized benefits for the environment,” Dr. Gross said.

Climate change is here—and we must take action to mitigate its effects, emphasized Dr. Schoen.

“We are the last generation with a meaningful ability to act on climate change, prevent its worst consequences and build a healthier future for humanity,” she said.

For More Information

Access the following articles in Radiology:
• “Climate Change and Radiology: Impetus for Change and a Toolkit for Action
• “Radiology and the Climate Crisis: Opportunities and Challenges—Radiology in Training”
• “All Specialties in Radiology Must Address the Climate Crisis

Read previous RSNA News stories on climate change: