Kaiser Permanente becomes first carbon-neutral health system in the U.S.

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Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest integrated, nonprofit health system with 4.7 million members in Southern California, has become the first health care system in the United States to achieve carbon-neutral status, Kaiser officials announced.

This move to carbon neutrality eliminates the organization’s 800,000-ton annual carbon footprint, the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road, according to a Kaiser statement. The U.S. health care industry overall is responsible for roughly 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, the statement said.

“As wildfires rage across the western U.S., we can all see that the health impacts of climate change are not abstract or far in the future — they are here today, and they disproportionately impact the most vulnerable among us,” Greg A. Adams, chairman and CEO of Kaiser, said in a prepared statement. “We must recognize, for example, that the pollution that leads to respiratory illnesses, and is linked to higher mortality rates from COVID-19, disproportionately impacts Black and low-income communities. In order to create a healthier, more sustainable path forward, we must address the inseparable issues of climate and human health as one.”

Certified by the CarbonNeutral Protocol, the milestone comes as Kaiser has for decades embraced renewable energy and embedded sustainable practices throughout its business operations, the statement said.

The certification applies to its Scope 1 emissions (direct emissions from sources it owns or controls) and Scope 2 emissions (emissions attributable to the electricity it consumes), as well as select Scope 3 emissions (emissions from sources it does not directly own or control), including corporate travel.

In order to reach this milestone, Kaiser first improved energy efficiency in its buildings, installed on-site solar power and made long-term purchases of new renewable energy generation.

Kaiser then invested in carbon offsets to counter the currently unavoidable emissions from the natural gas power that heats and cools its hospitals. The carbon offsets were chosen for their strong health benefits. 

One project funds clay pot water filters in Guatemala that avoid burning wood or gas to boil water, and also reduce fatal childhood waterborne diseases. Another project prevents Indonesian peatland from conversion into high-pollution palm oil production while funding a floating health clinic for riverside communities. 

“We are proud of this accomplishment, but the urgency and scale of climate change require even greater and more widespread innovation,” Ramé Hemstreet, vice president of operations for Kaiser Permanente’s National Facilities Services and chief energy officer, said in the statement. “As we set our sights on new goals, we hope our example inspires others in our industry to do the same.”

Looking forward, Kaiser is expected to expand its focus by reducing its Scope 3 footprint, including its supply chain. The organization is set to identify a science-based target for additional emissions reductions in 2021.

“To have the necessary impact on the health of our climate and communities, we must continue to set and achieve bold, audacious environmental goals,” Dr. Bechara Choucair, senior vice president and chief health officer at Kaiser, added. “We must commit to doing the difficult work of decarbonizing our supply chain to greatly broaden our contribution to a carbon-free economy.”

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