Embracing sustainability in health care is the right thing to do

As health systems create healing environments, it’s imperative that we realize the health sector produces almost 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States — and the consequences are most disproportionately felt by marginalized populations.

The emissions come from a number of sources, including anesthetic gases used during surgery, the energy to operate our facilities, food waste and the toll of commuting by our caregivers. To ensure we are doing our part to create healthy communities, Providence took a bold stand in 2020, pledging to work toward becoming carbon negative by 2030.

Reversing our emissions is a tall but doable order, and at Providence we are making significant progress, using our WE ACT framework. An acronym for Waste, Energy/water, Agriculture/food, Chemicals and Transportation, our approach is producing real results. For example:

  • By the end of 2022, Providence decreased greenhouse gas emissions from anesthesia by 78% and reduced overall carbon emissions by 11.5%.
  • We are focused on eliminating waste from the piped delivery of the anesthetic agent nitrous oxide by the end of next year due to its significant emissions.
  • 29 of our 51 hospitals recently earned Practice Greenhealth recognition.
  • 31 of our facilities are using 100% renewable electricity, and energy conservation measures are being implemented at 29 facilities across Washington state.
  • Earlier this year, we announced our first medical director for environmental stewardship.
  • We have reduced carbon emissions from business travel by 71% since 2019.

This is important work that is directly linked to health equity. Dangerous air quality caused by pollution and wildfires puts many vulnerable populations at a greater risk for asthma and other respiratory conditions that can, in turn, lead to hospitalization. These populations are also disproportionately affected by extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, from heatwaves to hurricanes and flooding.

Reversing course is not something a single institution can do on its own. It will require all of us, working together.

That’s why I joined several health care leaders to bring attention to this urgent matter. You can read more about why we believe embracing sustainability is good not just for business, but the health of our communities, in our recent Modern Healthcare op-ed.

I look forward to sharing more about the work the Providence family of organizations is doing to move toward carbon negativity by 2030 and please look for our second annual environmental stewardship report, which will be released soon.



Rod Hochman, M.D.


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