Conserving resources in the health sector

The exploitation of synergies between different fields of policy and the reduction of conflicting targets are important activities in the German resource efficiency program (ProgRess). So far, there has only been a rudimentary examination of where the health sector intersects with the topic of conserving resources. This research project’s objective is to exploit synergies and potentials between the policy fields of resource conservation and health. The project is commissioned by the German Environment Agency and develops strategic fields of activity and options to address the topic “Conserving resources in the health sector”.

To tackle this topic successfully, extensive knowledge of resource efficiency must be combined with detailed knowledge about the structures and actors of the German health system. The project applies a mix of methods. Apart from desk research, the core elements here include model-based quantitative analyses based on extended multi-regional input-output tables, expert interviews, an online survey as well as workshops with stakeholders. The main work steps are:

  • Quantitative analysis of resource consumption in Germany’s health system;
  • Identification and characterization of the stakeholders relevant for using resources more efficiently in the German health system;
  • Identification and presentation of best-practice examples for conserving resources in the health system;
  • Identification of fields in the health system that are important for reducing resource consumption and deriving fields of activity and options (including the relevant actors groups) to lower resource consumption in the health system;
  • Deriving policy recommendations and suggestions for further research required.

The aim of the project was to develop synergies and potentials between the policy fields of resource conservation and health and to develop options for stakeholders and policy recommendations. At the beginning of the research project, a quantitative analysis of the raw material consumption of the German health sector and its cost structures revealed areas with significant impact on raw material consumption. The German health care sector, i.e. inpatient and outpatient healthcare provision, accounts for an annual raw material consumption of about 107 million tons, of which about one third comes from domestic raw material extraction and two thirds from imports. This means that healthcare services account for about 5% of the total raw material consumption in Germany. Between 1995 and 2016, raw material consumption increased considerably by about 80 percent. Despite this quantitative significance, the topic currently plays a rather subordinate role for the majority of stakeholders in the German healthcare system.

The analyses in this research project show possibilities for both improving resource efficiency and reducing costs. Based on a screening of the healthcare system, which includes not only outpatient and inpatient services but also other health-related intermediate input and infrastructure sectors, the structures and institutions in the healthcare system with regard to resource conservation were analysed on the basis of desk research, interviews and a written survey. Relevant stakeholder groups were characterized and four priority areas were identified: pharmaceuticals, medical devices, construction and supply of food and beverages. In order to identify specific approaches for increasing resource efficiency, these were examined in more depth including the involvement of relevant stakeholders and an analysis of examples of good practice. On this basis, strategic options for stakeholders and policy recommendations were derived, i.a. regarding agenda setting, information and training, implementation support and considerations on the establishment of a round table on "Resource conservation in the healthcare system".

The research in this project broke new ground because so far there has been no systematic examination of how the health sector intersects with the topic of resource consumption. The results are highly relevant for policy making because they identify future fields of activity at the intersection between resource efficiency and health policy.


27 June 2017 - 31 August 2020


The project is commissioned by the German Environment Agency (UBA) and financed with funds from the German Federal Government.

Project coordinator

Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, Germany