Kaiser Permanente's health system reaches carbon-neutral status

Integrated, nonprofit health system Kaiser Permanente just became the first health system in the U.S. to reach carbon neutrality, officials announced Monday.

The Oakland, California-based healthcare giant said it reached the carbon neutrality through moves such as making buildings more efficient, investing in more sustainable business practices and purchasing carbon offsets. The milestone was certified by the CarbonNeutral Protocol.

The organization said the carbon neutrality offsets its estimated 800,000-ton annual carbon footprint, or the equivalent of 175,000 cars. The U.S. healthcare industry overall is responsible for roughly 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

“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,” said Greg Adams, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, in a 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.” 

RELATED: Climate impact: How the business of healthcare is changing with climate change

Kaiser began its efforts by focusing on energy efficiency in its buildings, installing on-site solar power and making long-term purchases of new renewable energy. In September 2018, the health system reached a power purchase agreement to acquire 180 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power 27 of its 39 hospitals.

The agreement was also aimed at helping establish new solar and wind farms and one of the largest battery energy storage facilities in the U.S. The health system also targeted reduced waste and water use, with the goal of having 100% sustainable or local food and a 25% decrease in water usage by 2025.

It purchased carbon offsets to counter unavoidable emissions from natural gas power used to heat and cool its hospitals. The offsets include a project that funds clay pot water filters in Guatemala that avoid burning wood or gas to boil water to reduce fatal childhood waterborne diseases, officials said.

RELATED: Kaiser Permanente set to be carbon neutral in 2020 

Another project prevents Indonesian peatland from conversion into high-pollution palm oil production while funding a floating health clinic for riverside communities, officials said. 

Kaiser Permanente said it plans to address its supply chain in future projects aimed at reducing emissions.

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