Michigan Medicine reducing anesthesia-related emissions


Michigan Medicine has reduced greenhouse gas emissions associated with inhaled anesthesia by 88% over the past year, in support of universitywide carbon neutrality.

The Green Anesthesia Initiative, or GAIA — an homage to the personification of Earth in Greek mythology — was established in 2022 by the Department of Anesthesiology. Its initial goal, now surpassed, was to reduce emissions from inhaled anesthesia by 80% within three years from a 2021 baseline, while ensuring patient safety.

“Our anesthesiology team’s strategy and focus on such an important project demonstrates what we can achieve with creativity, persistence and teamwork,” said Tony Denton, senior vice president and chief environmental, social and governance officer at Michigan Medicine.

A photo of a man in medical scrubs
David Hovord, assistant professor of anesthesiology and one of the project leads for the Green Anesthesia Initiative, is shown in an operating room with an anesthesia machine in the background. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Medicine)

“The collaboration across areas of our organization shows that we can find environmental sustainability solutions to save our planet while treating patients in a safe and highly reliable manner — a win-win.”

The reported reduction in emissions, 6,110 metric tons of CO2-equivalent, is equal to the emissions generated by 1,360 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles for one year.

“From the start, we aimed to minimize our carbon footprint.,” said George A. Mashour, the Robert B. Sweet Professor of Anesthesiology and professor of anesthesiology, and chair of the Department of Anesthesiology. “We have tremendous leadership on this project from our department, great partners in U-M Health, and a committed team of fantastic clinical colleagues.”

GAIA pursued a three-phased approach:

  • The initiative replaced or eliminated inhaled anesthetics with high associated emissions, including desflurane, isoflurane and nitrous oxide, in favor of those with a smaller carbon footprint, such as sevoflurane.
  • The project team updated anesthesia machines to safely reduce current flows by 25%, lowering the release of anesthetic in the atmosphere and minimizing delivery costs.
  • GAIA aims to broaden its impact within the department and beyond through efforts to reduce anesthetic waste. Plans to that end include creating anesthesia site-specific working groups to develop additional solutions to support the initiative’s emissions reduction goals and developing a consortium with other health care systems to influence environmentally preferred purchasing practices.

The Planet Blue at U-M Health program advances sustainability in health care delivery and education, in alignment with U-M climate action commitments. In addition to its work in green anesthesia, the program is expanding efforts in sustainable building standards, waste reduction, recycling, energy conservation, environmental justice and virtual patient care, among other priorities.

U-M Health has also been recognized for 20 consecutive years by Practice Greenhealth, which provides oversight and guidance to health care organizations committed to waste reduction, recycling and reuse, and health equity among other key areas.

The health system earned three awards from Practice Greenhealth for 2023. Universitywide goals include eliminating direct, campus greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 and procuring 100% of purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025.


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