In the media

Revolutionising medical technology: A sustainable approach to Continuous Glucose Monitors

Glyn Griffiths

By Glyn Griffiths

Sustainable Business Magazine

13 May 2024

PA Consulting’s sustainability innovation lead Glyn Griffiths and PA’s sustainability engineer Patrick Foley authored an article for Sustainable Business Magazine discussing insights from their latest Reimagining Sustainable MedTech report.

This article was first published in Sustainable Business Magazine

In a world grappling with climate change, the medical industry faces a dual challenge: delivering life-saving technologies while minimising environmental impact. Our team of multidisciplinary researchers, mechanical and electronic engineers, designers, sustainability specialists, and healthcare expects evaluated the patient experience and associated life cycle environmental impacts of using continuous glucose monitors (CGMs), devices that are essential for managing diabetes. With over 422 million people globally dependent on diabetes-monitoring technologies, ensuring the sustainable development of new solutions is increasingly as important as delivering treatment efficacy.

Understanding the industry and impacts

Our project began with an in-depth exploration of the CGM market, anticipated to grow from $8.21 billion in 2024 to $13.54 billion by 2030. We analysed regulatory frameworks, technological advancements, and user expectations to lay the groundwork for sustainable interventions.

Through Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) of six leading CGM models, we identified key environmental hotspots. Impacts expanded beyond material selection and are dependent on implementation. Disposable applicators represent at least 70 percent of the carbon impact of single use applicator systems. Packaging and associated transportation activities were also areas where increased impacts rose from inefficient implementation.

Strategies for sustainable development

Armed with data-led insights, we formulated eco-design strategies to mitigate the environmental impacts of the product across its lifecycle. Extending the functional lifespan of CGM components emerged as a major strategy. For instance, our research indicated that by simply increasing the usage duration of sensors from 10 to 14 days, we could reduce annual carbon emissions by about 30 percent. This approach not only decreases waste but also enhances user convenience by reducing the frequency of replacements.

Packaging also presented a significant opportunity for reduction in environmental impact. We initiated several measures to minimise packaging waste, including reducing packaging size, utilising recycled materials, and redesigning elements to improve logistic efficiency. These changes aimed to cut down on transport emissions and reduce the overall carbon footprint associated with the packaging of CGMs.

Engaging users and looking ahead

A crucial element of our approach involved user engagement. Users highlighted the vast improvement CGMs provide in the management of diabetes, however these devices also bring additional usability steps in their installation, and generate (significantly) more waste; problematic to dispose and recycle.

Designing products to facilitate ease of use from set-up to removal was a key area of focus. This direct user involvement provided essential feedback, helping us refine our sustainability strategies and ensure that our designs met user needs without compromising environmental goals.

Key sustainability principles

  • Execution is just as important as strategy: Effective execution is as crucial as the strategy itself. Analysis of CGM devices revealed that reusable devices can often be more impactful than single-use equivalents. Reusable devices only offer environmental benefits when optimized across their entire lifecycle.
  • Extending functional life is key to reducing impact: Extending – especially electronic – component functional life and lengthening the period in which sensor can be worn significantly lowers environmental impacts. However, this requires balancing with enhanced technology to maintain accuracy and performance over longer usage periods.
  • Supporting services are required to facilitate sustainable user behaviour: To facilitate sustainable user behaviour, services are needed to manage the disposal and recycling of devices like CGMs to align to collect streams, e.g., e-waste. This is essential since user interviews indicate attempts to recycle parts independently.
  • Bad user experience is bad for the planet: Good user experience is vital for sustainability, particularly as medical devices move into home use. Systems that are difficult to use or fail to meet user needs will likely be less popular, even if they are designed to be more sustainable.
  • Design strategy will differ between companies, locations, and users: Some user types will require simpler strategies. Businesses must consider diverse user demographics, local regulations, and infrastructure without compromising on design or sustainability.

As we look to the future, our vision is to achieve a medical sector where every technology developed considers environmental impacts from inception to disposal. This paradigm shift is essential for reducing the healthcare sector’s carbon footprint and ensuring our medical solutions are sustainable.

We continue to refine our approach and expand the application of our design for sustainability principles across other medical devices. By inviting other stakeholders in the healthcare and technology sectors to join us, we aim to forge a path toward a healthier future for both the planet and its inhabitants, rethinking how we design and utilize technology in healthcare to create genuinely sustainable solutions.

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