This article was previously published as "Hospitals race to save patients—and the planet," by Ken Budd, special to AAMC News, on Oct. 15, 2019, on aamc.org, and is reproduced with permission. Read the original article.
The statistics are staggering. The global health care industry is responsible for two gigatons of carbon dioxide each year, or 4.4% of worldwide net emissions—the equivalent of 514 coal-fired power plants. If the global health care sector were a country, it would be the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Those are some of the eye-popping numbers from a September 2019 report titled Health Care’s Climate Footprint, from Arup and Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international organization that’s working to make health care ecologically sustainable. The numbers are particularly disturbing for the United States: The United States is the world’s highest emitter of health care greenhouse gases, accounting for 27% of the global health care footprint (China, at number two, accounts for 17%).
How can teaching hospitals and laboratories improve their ecological efforts? Many institutions have already launched environmental initiatives, from energy conservation to green lab programs. In December 2018, seven Boston-area teaching hospitals and clinical institutes, including Harvard Medical School, announced a commitment to decarbonize. The University of California system has pledged to become 100% reliant on clean electricity for its campuses and medical centers by 2025, and the Cleveland Clinic is working to become carbon neutral by 2027.
Numerous hospitals have received LEED certifications (a program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to rate environmentally friendly buildings), from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, New York, to the Shands Cancer Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.
“There’s a link between climate and health—that definitely motivates us,” says Ilyssa Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Office for a Healthy Environment. “It impacts our bid to ‘do no harm.’”
Here’s how some hospitals are caring not only for patients, but for the planet.