Eight years after making its first pledge to reduce its carbon footprint Kaiser Permanente has achieved the landmark of becoming the first health system in the country to become carbon neutral.
The health system on Monday announced it gained carbon-neutral status certification as recognized by the CarbonNeutral Protocol, an internationally recognized set of guidelines for greenhouse gas accounting awarded by global consulting firm Natural Capital Partners.
Ramé Hemstreet, chief energy officer and vice president for operations for Kaiser’s National Facilities Services, estimated the move reduces the healthcare organization’s annual carbon footprint by 800,000 tons, or the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road.
“We’re hoping to inspire other health systems to set similarly ambitious goals,” Hemstreet said.
Kaiser’s effort began in 2012 with a commitment to reduce the health system’s carbon emissions by 30% by 2020.
“Back then we thought that was a bold goal,” Hemstreet said. “But we quickly achieved that milestone in 2016.”
Over the past eight years the health system has employed a combination of initiatives to become more environmentally sustainable. Much of the effort began with improving the organization’s buildings to make them more energy efficient, including the installation of onsite solar power and entering into long-term power purchasing agreements for renewable energy sources. Those efforts have resulted in an 80% improvement in the health system’s energy efficiency since 2012, Hemstreet said.
Kaiser also invested in a number of international projects to reduce carbon emissions that serve as “offsets” for the unavoidable greenhouse gases the health system continues to emit through its natural gas-powered heating and cooling systems.
The certification recognizes Kaiser’s effort in reducing emissions from sources the health system directly owns or controls, as well as from the electricity it consumes. Hemstreet said further efforts will focus on ways to decrease emissions from sources the health system neither owns nor controls, like purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for corporate travel and reducing the carbon emission output from its supply chain.
U.S. hospitals remain among the world’s biggest air polluters. A 2018 Commonwealth Fund study estimated the healthcare industry collectively accounts for 10% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. The amount of air pollutants produced by healthcare providers were associated with as many as 20,000 premature deaths a year, the study found.
“The connection between climate and health is so clear,” said Dr. Bechara Choucair, chief health officer at Kaiser. “There’s no doubt that to fulfill our commitment to improve and wellbeing in our communities we have to be thinking about climate.”
Advocate Aurora Health plans to power all of its facilities solely on renewable electricity sources by 2030 and in 2016, Boston Medical Center entered into a purchasing agreement to construct a 650-acre solar installation in North Carolina that would make the hospital carbon-neutral by 2020.