April 22, 2015

Joining with global health care institutions on climate action

Signing of 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge signals further urgency to address climate change as a health issue.

Forty-five years ago, when people celebrated the first Earth Day in streets, parks and auditoriums across the country, very few might have foreseen that climate change would become the defining environmental issue of our time. Now, as the world awakens to the detrimental impacts climate change is having, and will continue to have, on the health of people and communities, health care institutions from across the globe are joining forces and pledging to take meaningful action to protect public health.

Kaiser Permanente is among nine leading health care organizations that recently announced their support for the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge, an initiative from Health Care Without Harm’s Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network. The 2020 Challenge invites health care systems and hospitals around the world to pledge to reduce their carbon footprints and protect public health from climate change.

“Kaiser Permanente is making this pledge because climate change isn’t a distant threat,” says Kathy Gerwig, vice president and environmental stewardship officer for Kaiser Permanente. “The health impacts of a changing climate can be felt today in the form of increasing rates of asthma, spread of infectious diseases, heat stress and injuries from severe weather events. By addressing climate change for the future, we are improving the health of communities today.”

The 2020 Climate Challenge is the first international effort to track emissions and take measurable actions to reduce the health care sector’s carbon footprint.

Long-standing partnership and leadership

Logo for 2020 Healthcare Climate Challenge

Kaiser Permanente was invited to be among the first to sign the 2020 Climate Challenge pledge by Health Care Without Harm, a non-profit coalition working to transform the health sector worldwide to become ecologically sustainable and a leading advocate for environmental health and justice. The organizations have had a long and robust partnership with each other.

“Kaiser Permanente has been a leader in showing others the impact that hospitals can make in greening the health care sector,” says Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm. “It has already made tremendous strides in reducing its impact on the environment, and we knew it would be poised to encourage other health care organizations to follow in their footsteps.”

Other participants signing the pledge include U.S. health systems Gundersen Healthy System and Virginia Mason, as well as Western Cape Government Health in South Africa and Yonsei University Health System in South Korea, among others. Health Care Without Harm will invite additional hospitals and health systems to join the challenge over the next several months in the run‐up to a worldwide meeting of heads of state at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change this December in Paris.

“The movement Health Care Without Harm is building, as exemplified by this latest effort, is critical to transforming health care from a sick-care orientation to one that prevents disease, including proactively addressing environmental impacts on people’s health and well-being,” says Gerwig.

Reducing our impact on the environment

Kaiser Permanente’s environmental stewardship commitment includes industry-leading efforts to reduce waste, reduce the use of harmful chemicals, promote sustainable food choices, and conserve energy and water.

Beautiful sunset sky with clouds that are orange and yellow and red and purple behind silhouettes of three huge wind turbines from the Altamont Pass area of northern California
Wind turbines at the Golden Hills wind farm on Altamont Pass, Calif.

In February, Kaiser Permanente took another leap forward in supporting environmental stewardship when the organization announced that it had completed several agreements to purchase enough renewable energy to reduce the organization’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent nationwide by 2017, making it one of the top users of renewable energy in the country.

The very first Earth Day, celebrated in 1970, capitalized on the emerging consciousness of environmental awareness. This year, we have the opportunity to raise environmental awareness to new heights and to be part of the actions, both as an organization and individually, to reduce our impact on the environment so that generations after us will be able to live healthy lives on a healthy planet.