Climate action will put us on a trajectory to avoid the worst health impacts linked to climate change such as extreme heat and cold, the spread of tropical diseases, and water contamination from sea level rise and storm surge in flood-prone areas. Additionally, it is easy to understand the real, tangible ways that acting on climate change will improve air and water quality for communities today. So the connection between the climate crisis and public health is pretty clear.
But the healthcare sector can play an important part in driving solutions to the crisis. On Tuesday, Kaiser Permanente committed to a set of goals that will reduce its climate and environmental footprint by the year 2025. Kaiser is going beyond providing climate-informed care and healing and is actively moving its operations towards the clean energy economy. With over 10.6 million members across eight states and 186,000 employees, Kaiser’s commitment is a big step with far-reaching effects. Kaiser has a history of committing to act on climate: in 2012 Kaiser set a 2020 goal of 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and is on track to reach this target as soon as next year. With this new commitment, the non-profit healthcare provider shows it will not rest on its laurels but will continue to push to be a leader in its field.
By committing to bold clean energy goals, Kaiser is showing its peers in the business world that addressing climate change isn’t just good for public health—it’s good for business. At least 58 companies that have committed to power their operations with 100 percent clean energy and committing to take its net emissions of greenhouse gases below zero. And considering that health-sector expenditures accounted for 17.1% of US GDP in 2014 (and are expected to climb to almost 20% of GDP by 2024), it is necessary that our transition to a clean energy economy include significant, applicable carbon reduction pathways for the sector.
Here is a rundown of Kaiser’s commitments – in fact, a number of these targets are directly linked to climate benefits.
Kaiser Permanente pledges that by 2025 it will:
- Become “carbon net positive” by buying enough clean energy and carbon offsets to remove more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than it emits.
With cleaner energy sources less carbon pollution is emitted into the atmosphere
- Buy all of its food locally or from farms and producers that use sustainable practices, including using antibiotics responsibly.
Local food means food from farms closer to the consumer, so less energy is needed to transport the products, reducing petroleum and diesel combustion
- Recycle, reuse or compost 100 percent of its non-hazardous waste.
Reducing waste sent to landfills avoids methane emissions; recycling allows re-use of processed resources rather than using additional energy to process from raw materials
- Reduce the amount of water it uses by 25 percent per square foot of buildings.
It takes energy to extract, purify, deliver, and process water so reducing water consumption reduces energy needs throughout the water supply chain
- Increase its purchase of products and materials that meet environmental standards to 50 percent.
- Meet international standards for environmental management at all its hospitals.
- Pursue new collaborations to reduce environmental risks to the foodsheds, watersheds and air basins supplying its communities.
Kaiser’s executive leadership, including CEO Bernard Tyson and SVP Ray Baxter, pushed for a strong UN climate deal in Paris last December, adding pressure to companies in other sectors and projecting Kaiser’s climate leadership at a global level
And while Kaiser’s latest commitments are significant, it is not acting alone. There is a broad range of actions that leaders in the healthcare industry are pursuing to reduce their climate impacts. The Dignity Health system announced in December that it is divesting from coal, and New York-Presbyterian has purchased Energy Star appliances and upgraded buildings to reduce its energy needs. At NextGen Climate America, we are committed to advancing policies that prevent climate disaster and promote prosperity for every American. We applaud Kaiser Permanente for setting ambitious clean energy goals, and we encourage the rest of the healthcare sector to quickly follow suit.