Healthcare Organizations and Climate Change

by | Apr 5, 2023 | Blog

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Climate change is causing extreme weather events, rising sea levels, increases in pollutants, and other natural disasters that negatively impact health around the world. While everyone is impacted by it to some extent, climate change disproportionately impacts people in historically marginalized groups. In fact, it’s estimated that 80%-90% of modifiable contributors to health outcomes are related to social determinants of health (SDOH), which includes the environment.  

Healthcare cares for people impacted by climate change, but it’s also contributing to the problem. Worldwide, healthcare is responsible for 4.6% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In the U.S., healthcare is responsible for 8.5% of emissions. The US healthcare system also contributes 9% of the nation’s harmful non-greenhouse air pollutants and 10% of the nation’s carbon emissions. However, there are many ways that organizations can reduce their environmental impact. Keep reading to learn more.

Ways Organizations Can Reduce Their Impact on the Environment

Reduce Emissions

One way organizations can reduce their footprint is by reducing emissions. A high percentage of emissions in healthcare are related to the production and transportation of goods and services. Organizations can choose suppliers that are committed to minimizing their carbon footprint. Another tip is to buy local and seasonal food and products when available to reduce emissions from transporting items from far away places.

Organizations can reduce emissions caused by vehicles. For organizations that lease or purchase vehicles, choose ones that are more efficient, and install electric vehicle charging stations for employees and guests. Organizations can also encourage public and active transportation by creating bike lanes and bike parking, establishing park and rides, and offering staff discounts for public transportation. 

Telehealth is another great option for reducing emissions. A study at UC Davis Health found that telehealth visits eliminated the need for patients to commute over 53 million miles in a two year period – saving 21,466 metric tons of CO2 emissions.  

Reduce Energy Consumption

Reducing energy consumption can help organizations minimize negative environmental impacts. The Mayo Clinic was able to reduce energy consumption by 20% by doing things such as using energy-efficient lighting, updating to efficient computer workstations, recalibrating automation systems, resealing ducts, and making new construction energy efficient. 

Using digital tools and software to minimize large hardware can also reduce energy consumption. Studies have found that using cloud-based data centers instead of on-sight infrastructure uses 84% less power. 

Unique Solutions

There are other unique ways health systems can help their environment. Cleveland Clinic has a tree planting initiative to improve air quality, provide ecosystem services, and offer health benefits of urban forests. They planted over 4,000 trees and created 12 neighborhood parks from 2016-2021. 

Sutter Health partnered with sustainability experts at Practice Greenhealth to develop a pilot program to reduce food waste. During this pilot study, they donated 65,00 pounds of food to local nonprofits and saved an estimated 283,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. 

What are some climate-friendly strategies that you find effective? What do you want to try? Let us know!