Kaiser Permanente set to be carbon neutral in 2020 

Kaiser Permanente is making significant investments in green energy with a plan to be carbon neutral in 2020. 

The health system announced Monday it reached a power purchase agreement to acquire 180 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power 27 of its 39 hospitals. The agreement will also help establish new solar and wind farms and one of the largest battery energy storage facilities in the U.S. 

The investment in renewable energy addresses one of seven goals Kaiser Permanente has outlined to address climate change and the environment, said Kathy Gerwig, vice president of employee safety, health and wellness in an interview with FierceHealthcare. 

Kaiser is reallocating what it spends now on electricity to make the purchase, she said, so the switch will be cost neutral to start with the potential for savings down the line. 

“Shifting from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy has immediate public health impacts,” said Gerwig, who is also Kaiser's environmental stewardship officer. “It’s an immediate win—this isn’t about something that’s going to pay off 10 or 20 years from now.” 

RELATED: Medical groups denounce Trump’s withdrawal from climate agreement 

The health system is also targeting reduced waste and water use, with the goal of having 100% sustainable or local food and 25% decrease in water usage by 2025. It has already made progress in some of those goals; for example, Kaiser Permanente has reduced its water use by 12% per square foot since 2013, Bechara Choucair, M.D., senior vice president and chief community health officer, told Fierce. 

Kaiser Permanente also been tracking its greenhouse gas emissions since 2005, and it has cut emissions by 29% since, even as its membership increased by 36%, Choucair said. 

Choucair said it’s crucial that hospitals and health systems consider climate and the environment in their community health projects, as it significantly impacts human health. 

Specific situations Kaiser is tracking include, for example, rising temperatures—which can lead to higher rates of heat stroke and dehydration. Poor air quality can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease and is dangerous for patients with asthma, while naturally disasters linked to climate change—such as wildfires—carry both mental and physical health risks. 

“The bottom line is: The air we breathe, the water we drink...those matter,” Choucair said. 

RELATED: Kaiser Permanente to invest $200M in initiatives targeting housing insecurity 

Kaiser is revealing the change in its energy sourcing as part of the Global Climate Action Summit, which also includes other healthcare stakeholders such as Dignity Health and the World Health Organization. 

CEO Bernard Tyson will speak at the summit and said in a statement that Kaiser has realized “that one of the most effective ways to protect the health of the more than 68 million people in the communities we serve is by ensuring healthy environmental conditions.” 

“By investing in renewable energy and becoming carbon neutral, Kaiser Permanente is helping to prevent climate-related illness for people worldwide,” Tyson said.