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Reducing Carbon Footprint in Pediatric Anesthesiology: The Greenhouse Gas Project

Russell Groener, MD, associate professor and assistant program director for the residency program, is spearheading an impactful initiative in the Division of Pediatric Anesthesiology aimed directly at the heart of climate change. “In today’s healthcare landscape, our duty extends beyond providing patient care; it encompasses a commitment to our planet,” said Groener. This sense of responsibility has led to the launch of the Greenhouse Gas Project, a pioneering effort to address climate change through targeted actions at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. 

The initiative focuses on reducing the carbon footprint of medical procedures, particularly those involving inhaled anesthetic agents. Hospitals around the nation are responsible for approximately 7 percent of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from inhaled anesthetics. The Greenhouse Gas Project aims to cut the emissions of the Division of Pediatric Anesthesiology in half within a year. 

One of the strategies employed by the project involves the use of the recently acquired fleet of Getinge Flow-e anesthesia machines at St. Louis Children’s and leveraging data from Epic. This allows an accurate calculation of the carbon emissions associated with each anesthesia case where inhaled anesthetic agents are used. Personalized reports tracking their own anesthesia gas-related carbon footprint are sent to each pediatric anesthesia provider, enabling them to monitor and improve their environmental impact over time.

Thanks to Dr. Schrock, the GHG project now has an official “No Nitrous” mascot that has taken up residence outside of Dr. Groener’s office.

The project targets various factors contributing to high GHG emissions, with particular emphasis on nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide, a potent GHG, poses a significant concern due to its high global warming potential and extended atmospheric lifespan. 

The project’s impact is already evident, with a significant reduction in emissions achieved within a short timeframe. Within six months, emissions dropped from 0.31 kg CO2 per minute to 0.15 kg CO2 per minute, meeting the initial goal of a 50 percent reduction. This achievement is attributed to the collective efforts of providers in embracing sustainable anesthesia practices.

“As we continue our journey toward environmental sustainability, ongoing efforts to reduce nitrous oxide usage and promote low-flow anesthesia techniques are paramount,” Groener emphasized. The success of the Greenhouse Gas Project is a testament to what can be achieved when the medical community comes together in support of a healthier planet.

By prioritizing sustainability, the Division of Pediatric Anesthesiology is not only reducing its carbon footprint, but also setting a precedent for other institutions to follow—showing how healthcare can play a crucial role in safeguarding the environment for future generations. “Every effort counts in the fight against climate change, and we’re just getting started,” remarked Groener.