Green is the New Gold Standard for Total Health

By | Environmental Stewardship | No Comments
Solar Panels, Kaiser Permanante Santa Clara

Solar Panels, Kaiser Permanante Santa Clara

Environmental health and the health of individuals and communities are strongly connected. As a health care provider, Kaiser Permanente feels a special responsibility to address the impacts of climate change on health and to reduce pollutants that can lead to disease. It’s all part of how we look at the total health of people and communities, considering all of the factors that influence their health outside of the doctor’s office.

That definition for total health became richer with the recent announcement that Kaiser Permanente was joining the august ranks of Apple, Google, and other large, environmentally-conscious companies that choose to be leaders in the green energy arena.

KP_SustainableEnergy_BrochureKaiser Permanente announced last month that we completed several agreements to purchase enough renewable energy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent nationwide by the beginning of 2017. These agreements mean that about 50 percent of the electricity used at our facilities in California will come from renewable energy sources.

The health care sector is poised, perhaps better than most, to plug in to the conversation about the health impacts of climate change and help direct the next stages of climate action. The health care industry carries a considerable environmental footprint, and Kaiser Permanente is partnering with Health Care Without Harm and the Business Renewables Center, launched recently by nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, to help not only the health care industry, but the entire U.S. business sector, move toward more abundant clean energy solutions.

“Climate change isn’t a distant threat,” said Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser Permanente’s environmental stewardship
officer. “The health impacts of a changing climate can be felt today in the form of increasing rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments, 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.”

Purchasing renewable energy supports KP’s core mission of total health, and it also makes good business sense.

“We expect this energy purchase to be cost neutral over the term of the contracts,” said Ramé Hemstreet, Kaiser Permanente’s chief energy officer. “By locking in rates, we can better forecast energy costs, and by using diverse fuel sources, we can protect our business from escalating and volatile energy prices. That’s great news for our members.”

So, the next time you see or visit a Kaiser Permanente facility, rest assured that green energy is making a major contribution to powering our facilities, addressing climate change and improving the total health of our members and communities.

More details of this announcement are captured in the infographic, video, and press release on Kaiser Permanente’s Share website.

What Does Environmentally Sustainable Health Care Look Like?

By | Environmental Stewardship, Experts, Health | No Comments

It’s all you’ve ever wanted to know about the greening of health care!  In our earlier post, we told you about the recent publication of the book, Greening Health Care, by Kaiser Permanente’s Kathy Gerwig.  Today, we begin a series of excerpts from the book — and we start with an introduction and overview from the preface.

The very nature of health care is changing. Health care reform, clinical innovations, electronic medical records, social connectivity, technological advances, baby boomers’ expectations about quality of life, demands for price to align with value, and ways the environment contributes to disease are some of the factors behind the changes. These changes offer profound, new opportunities to address environmental issues across the health care sector and beyond.image

In this changing landscape, what does environmentally sustainable health care look like? Let’s take an imaginary visit to a hospital for a routine doctor visit. Approaching the medical facility, the first thing we notice is that the building is smaller than we expected. There is a convenient transit stop at the front entrance. And the parking lot pavement allows rainwater to filter through to be cleaned and returned to the aquifer. We notice that instead of lawns there are native plantings that minimize water and pesticide use.

There is a garden path that takes us by a stream that was brought back to life from where it was hidden in a concrete culvert decades ago. We enjoy the birds that have rediscovered this tranquil place. You notice a labyrinth and take a meditative respite.

Once inside, we’re walking on nonvinyl, nonpolluting material on the carpets and floors, and we notice how much natural light floods into the lobby and hallways from specially designed window glass, shades, and blinds that allow sunlight in while minimizing afternoon heat. The walls are painted in soothing colors and patterns that mimic the adjoining landscape. The energy efficient lighting fixtures glow with a pleasing hue. You see a plaque on the wall indicating that the building is carbon-neutral.

In the bathroom, the toilets and sinks are water-conserving, and the soap does not contain harmful anti-bacterial agents. The paper towels are made from 100 percent recycled, post- consumer waste, and the used towels go into a compost container. In the waiting room, the fabric on the chairs was selected to avoid harmful chemicals that can cause adverse health effects.

In the exam room, your temperature and blood pressure are taken with mercury-free devices. You notice the purple exam gloves used by the clinical staff. These are latex-safe for worker and patient safety, and they are environmentally preferable.

If you are here for a biopsy, your doctor will use a rigid endoscope (for minimally invasive surgery) which is steam sterilized to avoid the use of chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and to staff. Read More

New Book Explores the Green Revolution in Health Care

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Can hospitals heal the planet? Kathy Gerwig thinks so.

Gerwig, who serves as Kaiser Permanente’s vice president and environmental stewardship officer, recently released a book that explores the intersections of health care and environmental stewardship, advancing the idea that health care organizations need to be addressing their environmental impact if they are truly making an impact on people’s health.

image“Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet” looks back over the nearly 20-year history of the green revolution in health care, examining the challenges and rewards of integrating sustainability into the health care sector.

“Health care has a large environmental footprint, but it can also play a crucial role in addressing the major environmental challenges of our time,” explains Gerwig. “The health of the environment is directly tied to the health of communities. By eliminating or mitigating environmental contributors to disease, we in health care can create healthier communities and help people lead healthier lives.”

Published by the Oxford University Press, “Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet” presents practical solutions for health care organizations and clinicians to improve their environments and the health of their communities. It covers topics such as climate action, making food services sustainable, managing hospital waste, greening medical buildings, and buying products that are environmentally responsible.

A major theme that permeates the book is the lessons learned through collaboration with other partners. The achievements to date in greening the health care sector have been the result of a great deal of support from other major health systems, non-governmental organizations, suppliers, and community groups.

“We have an opportunity — and an obligation — to address the impacts that health care makes on the environment,” says Gerwig. “And we can do that faster and more effectively if we work together.”

The book is now available at leading book retailers, including online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All proceeds from the book are being donated to 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.  You can find more information about the book here.

The Impact of the Health Care Sector on our Environment

By | Healthy Living, Video | No Comments

It is understood that health care activities as a whole contribute 8 percent of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions — known contributors to climate change and the rise of pollution and disease. In its ongoing commitment to improve the health of the communities it serves, Kaiser Permanente recently announced a commitment to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and trimming overall energy consumption.

Kaiser Permanente registered approximately 819,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions during its baseline year of measuring (2008), and total emissions increased to 837,000 metric tons in 2010, the most recently reported year. The organization is now rolling out an aggressive strategy to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020, compared to its 2008 levels. The strategy includes plans to invest in clean and renewable energy sources while also targeting energy conservation measures, as well as green-building techniques in the construction of new buildings.

More info on this news is in this video from Kaiser Permanente.

Making our Health Care Environments Healthier

By | Care Delivery, Experts, Healthy Living, Video | No Comments

We talk a lot about healthy environments on this blog, and one important aspect of that is the greening of the health care sector.  Looking at the connection between environmental health and public health can lead hospitals and health care organizations to move toward green purchasing practices and more sustainable energy solutions.  In 2010, Kaiser Permanente launched its Sustainability Scorecard – the first of its kind in health care and a model for green purchasing in the sector.  The scorecard evaluates the health and environmental impacts of each medical item the organization purchases; it also encourages vendors and suppliers across the United States to provide greener products, and it requires them to provide information on their own company’s environmental commitment – including package recycling and the use of potentially harmful chemicals in their products (or the making and disposal of them).

This week, Kaiser Permanente took another step in its green efforts by converting its intravenous (IV) medical equipment, including IV solution bags and IV tubing, to more eco-friendly alternatives that are free of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and DEHP (Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), two chemicals used in plastics that have been shown to harm human and environmental health. Kaiser Permanente purchases 4.9 million IV tubing sets and 9.2 million solution bags per year. This single step affects nearly 100 tons of medical products.  The move also saves the organization close to $5 million a year, proving that going green can have a positive effect on health care costs.

Learn more in the video below.