What is sustainable health

What is Sustainable Health?

It is easy to imagine a sustainable health and care system – it goes on forever within the limits of financial, social and environmental resources. The challenge is the current approach to delivering health and care cannot continue in the same way and stay within these limits.

What is SDU?


A sustainable health and care system is achieved by delivering high quality care and improved public health without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage.

It may also be useful to think about the relationship between sustainability and health in three distinct ways moving from a narrow focus to a broad focus. The resources and guidance on this website focus on points 1 and 2.

A sustainable health and care system:


1 - Sustainable Health and Care Sector

This involves ‘greening’ the sector with particular attention to energy, travel, waste, procurement, water, infrastructure adaptation and buildings. This ensures resources (physical, financial and human) used in the sector are:
  • Used efficiently (e.g. buildings and homes are well insulated and use less fuel to heat)
  • Used responsibly (e.g. clinical waste is disposed of safely to protect local people)

2 - Sustainable Health Care

This is slightly broader (but more health care specific) than point 1 and involves working across the health system and partners to deliver health care that deliver on the triple bottom line i.e. simultaneous financial, social and environmental return on investment. It includes adapting how we deliver services, health promotion, more prevention, corporate social responsibility and developing more sustainable models of care.

A sustainable way of living:


3 - Sustainable Health & Well-being

This is the broadest level and involves considering the sustainability of everything that impacts on health and well-being (e.g. education, farming, banking etc.).


  • Fit for the Future
    Fit for the Future

    Fit for the Future explores scenarios for the healthcare system in England in 2030. It was commissioned by the Sustainable Development Unit to help healthcare organisations think about the medium- and long-term future, and understand and prepare for their role.

    Download Document