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Net Zero Concept

New Tools Can Help Healthcare Industry Cut Carbon Emissions

By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

One year after calling on the healthcare sector to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released new tools to help industry leaders leverage federal resources to help their medical facilities and health systems reach that goal.

Via the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, HHS created the Quickfinder for Leveraging the Inflation Reduction Act for the Health Sector. Here, administrators can find ways to secure loans, grants, and tax credits to back projects aimed at cutting emissions and improving energy efficiency. As hospitals and health systems work on these plans, they can use the newly released Energy Star Portfolio Manager to track progress.

“The health sector represents about 20% of the U.S. economy and more than 8% of the country’s carbon emissions, so strengthening the resilience of healthcare providers and suppliers and decarbonizing the sector is critical for protecting our well-being and fighting climate change as a nation,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Rachel Levine. “Ultimately, climate change solutions are health equity solutions because they protect the most vulnerable among us.”

The percentage of greenhouse gas emissions that can be attributed to the healthcare industry varies. Worldwide, researchers have estimated that to be between 4.4% and 4.6%. In terms of greenhouse emissions just for the United States, researchers estimate the healthcare industry is responsible for around 9% to 10%, slightly higher than the HHS 8% estimate.

Since launching the voluntary pledge, HHS reports 116 organizations representing 872 hospitals have signed on. The goal is for the sector to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The healthcare industry is organizing in its own way around the issue of climate change. In medical schools, students are starting to include discussions in their curriculum. At Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, students can take an elective course to learn about climate change and how that affects patient health. At the University of Colorado Anschutz campus, medical students are working with nonprofit groups and federal agencies to learn more about environmental policy.

Practicing clinicians are banding together, too. Based out of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, more than 400 healthcare workers across Pennsylvania are part of the Clinicians for Climate Action, which launched in 2022 in response to the White House challenge on reducing carbon emissions. Similar groups have formed in other states, including Georgia, Florida, and Virginia. The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health has created this guide for healthcare professionals to learn more about climate change and how to work on this issue in their communities.

For more on this and related subjects, check out the latest issues of Healthcare Risk Management.