At Kaiser Permanente, we focus on reducing our negative impact on the environment because it’s part of our mission to improve the health of the members and communities we serve. It is also the right and equitable thing to do — for our patients, employees, doctors, communities, and the planet.
“Minimizing our contribution to climate change helps safeguard the health of the 68 million people in the communities we serve,” said Bechara Choucair, MD, senior vice president and chief health officer for Kaiser Permanente. “Our environment directly contributes to our health and wellness. The negative effects of climate change — from pollution to wildfires to unclean water — also directly affect our health.”
How climate change impacts human health
According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, people are at greater risk of mental and physical illness when they’re increasingly exposed to the floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and poor air quality that occur as a result of increased temperatures and rising sea levels. These environmental factors also increase stress and anxiety, for example, when people are forced to flee their homes due to a wildfire or flood.
And, not everyone is equally at risk.
“Unfortunately, our current climate crisis disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income communities, which makes it an equity issue,” said Seema Wadhwa, executive director of environmental stewardship for Kaiser Permanente. “This is why we not only modify the way we use natural resources, we also strategically invest in community efforts and campaigns that further environmental justice and climate resilience.”
We work to be environmentally responsible in every area of our organization. This extends to how we power our facilities; purchase food, medical supplies, and equipment; manage waste; and invest in our communities. We also prioritize partnerships to develop policies and systems that improve health in our communities, while acting as good environmental stewards.
As part of our long-term pledge to lead the fight against the ongoing climate crisis, this Earth Day we highlight some of our continued progress in reducing the impact our operations have on the environment.
- Reduced emissions — Health care is an energy-intensive industry and contributes approximately 10% of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat in the atmosphere. Despite expanding our health care services to 3.1 million additional members, we’ve reduced our operational greenhouse gas emissions by 29% since 2008.
- Carbon neutrality — In 2020, we became the first health care organization to achieve carbon neutrality mostly due to large investments in renewable energy. We also improved the energy efficiency in our buildings and funded projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our efforts offset the 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide our operations emit each year — that’s the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road.
Kaiser Permanente remains the only large U.S. health care organization to be certified carbon neutral.
- Green construction — We are meeting our goal of having all new major construction projects achieve LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. In November 2021, the council identified Kaiser Permanente as the top health care organization in the world for our number of LEED-certified buildings, with a total of 66. We’re also number one in the U.S. in terms of LEED-certified health care square footage, with 6.9 million square feet.
- Energy conservation — For decades, we’ve worked to improve energy efficiency in our buildings and use electricity from renewable sources. Even as we’ve grown in number of locations and members, we’ve improved our energy use efficiency by 8% since 2013. We generated more than 360 million watts of wind and solar power and installed 44 million watts of onsite solar panels.
- Water conservation — Health care facilities are among the largest consumers of water. A federal government report from 2012, the most recent available, found that inpatient health care buildings used the most water: an average of 50 gallons per square foot per year. Since 2013, we’ve reduced our water usage by 15.3% per square foot.
- Local efforts — The people of Kaiser Permanente work to make a difference every day. For example, the San Diego Green Team, which includes Kaiser Permanente employees and doctors together with community members, works to increase knowledge about sustainability. The team also hosts events such as electronics and battery recycling for our workforce and community. Northwest Permanente — the first medical group in the world certified as a B Corp for its social and environmental performance — instituted “Wait Don’t Waste” and “Minimal Surgical Draping” guidelines. This has saved money as well as reduced medical waste and emissions.
- Leading change — In addition to efforts to fight climate change within our organization and for our communities, we promote broader change. We sponsor major, industrywide, collective efforts such as Health Care Without Harm. We are also a key contributor to the National Academy of Medicine’s Action Collaborative on Decarbonizing the U.S. Health Sector, a private-public partnership.
Looking to the future, we’ll continue to plan and invest in ways to improve our environment and our health.
Learn more about our efforts to protect the environment and the health of communities.