Kaiser Permanente has become the first health care system in the United States to achieve carbon-neutral status. In a press release posted to its website, the Oakland, California-based integrated health system announced on Sep. 14 that “Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest integrated, nonprofit health system, has become the first health care system in the United States to achieve carbon-neutral status. With its longstanding commitment to improving conditions that lead to poor health, Kaiser Permanente has prioritized sustainability to contribute to and catalyze a green future free of the extreme climate conditions currently harming so many Americans. This move to carbon neutrality eliminates the organization’s 800,000-ton annual carbon footprint, the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road. The U.S. health care industry overall is responsible for roughly 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.”
The press release quoted Greg A. Adams, Kaiser’s chairman and CEO, as stating that, “As wildfires rage across the Western U.S., we can all see that the health impacts of climate change are not abstract or far in the future — they are here today, and they disproportionately impact the most vulnerable among us. We must recognize, for example, that the pollution that leads to respiratory illnesses and is linked to higher mortality rates from COVID-19 disproportionately impacts Black and low-income communities. In order to create a healthier, more sustainable path forward, we must address the inseparable issues of climate and human health as one,” Adams said.
And the press release quoted Imelda Dacones, M.D., president and CEO of Northwest Permanente Medical Group, as stating that, “As physicians, climate change is absolutely in our lane — let’s educate ourselves, our patients, and our communities. As a world, we will develop vaccines and effective medicines to treat the COVID-19 pandemic. Climate change, on the other hand, is a public health crisis where there will be no point of return if we don’t act today.”
The press release went on to note that, “Certified by the CarbonNeutral Protocol, the milestone comes as Kaiser Permanente has for decades embraced renewable energy and embedded sustainable practices throughout its business operations. The certification applies to its Scope 1 emissions (direct emissions from sources it owns or controls) and Scope 2 emissions (emissions attributable to the electricity it consumes), as well as select Scope 3 emissions (emissions from sources it does not directly own or control), including corporate travel. In order to reach this milestone, Kaiser Permanente first improved energy efficiency in its buildings, installed on-site solar power, and made long-term purchases of new renewable energy generation.” The CarbonNeutral Protocol is an international standard developed and managed by Natural Capital Partners, an international environmental organization with numerous international offices, including several in the U.S.
Further, “Kaiser Permanente then invested in carbon offsets to counter the currently unavoidable emissions from the natural gas power that heats and cools its hospitals. The carbon offsets were chosen for their strong health benefits. One project funds clay pot water filters in Guatemala that avoid burning wood or gas to boil water, and also reduce fatal childhood waterborne diseases. Another project prevents the conversion of Indonesian peatland into high-pollution palm oil production while funding a floating health clinic for riverside communities.”
“We are proud of this accomplishment, but the urgency and scale of climate change require even greater and more widespread innovation,” said Ramé Hemstreet, vice president of operations for Kaiser Permanente’s National Facilities Services, and chief energy officer, in the press release. “As we set our sights on new goals, we hope our example inspires others in our industry to do the same.”
“Looking forward, Kaiser Permanente will expand its focus by reducing its Scope 3 footprint, including its supply chain,” the press release stated. “The organization will identify a science-based target for additional emissions reductions in 2021.” “To have the necessary impact on the health of our climate and communities, we must continue to set and achieve bold, audacious environmental goals,” said Bechara Choucair, MD, senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser Permanente. “We must commit to doing the difficult work of decarbonizing our supply chain to greatly broaden our contribution to a carbon-free economy.”
As Emily Holbrook wrote on Sep. 14 in Environment + Energy Leader, “According to the organization, this move to carbon neutrality eliminates its 800,000-ton annual carbon footprint. The US health care industry overall is responsible for roughly 10 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to recent research from Yale University.”
Holbrook added that, “In order to reach this milestone, Kaiser Permanente first improved energy efficiency in its buildings, installed on-site solar power, and made long-term purchases of new renewable energy generation. In fact, six years ago, Kaiser Permanente signaled that the Oakland, California-based health care system would seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification for new construction of hospitals, large medical offices, and other major projects. Kaiser Permanente then invested in carbon offsets to counter the currently unavoidable emissions from the natural gas power that heats and cools its hospitals. The carbon offsets were chosen for their strong health benefits. One project funds clay pot water filters in Guatemala that avoid burning wood or gas to boil water, and also reduce fatal childhood waterborne diseases. Another project prevents Indonesian peatland from conversion into high-pollution palm oil production while funding a floating health clinic for riverside communities.”