Joint Commission announces sustainability certification program for hospitals

The Joint Commission has announced a voluntary sustainability certification program for hospitals.

Effective Jan. 1, 2024, the Sustainable Healthcare Certification program will be available to hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission and other bodies. The program provides a framework to help organizations undertake decarbonization efforts and to receive public recognition and includes setting priorities and governance for sustainability work, creating baselines to measure three sources of reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and developing an action plan to reduce them. 

In an announcement, the commission said the program was inspired by requests from healthcare organizations looking to accelerate their sustainable practices and reduce GHG emissions. 

“We want to work with the momentum of healthcare organizations leading the way in sustainability excellence—inspiring and guiding others that want to prioritize greener practices,” Jonathan Perlin, M.D., president and CEO of the organization, said in a press release. “Now is the time for The Joint Commission to take its place among other leading healthcare organizations to help accelerate environmental sustainability.”

Originally, the program had been proposed as a requirement but shifted after the organization faced widespread industry backlash, primarily from senior hospital administrators, Fierce Healthcare reported in April. 

At a meeting hosted by the National Academy of Medicine, Perlin acknowledged that younger clinicians had expressed their enthusiasm and support for the standards. Nonetheless, Perlin announced the commission's plans to roll out the proposed standards in a voluntary program instead a week before the open comment period had ended.

The certification’s standards aim to establish structure and accountability to accelerate sustainability efforts in healthcare.

Healthcare organizations will see lasting benefits, the commission argues, like cost savings, operating efficiencies, staff retention and potential tax credits through federal incentives. Decarbonization is also critical to improving health equity, executives said in an announcement. 

“Today, there are severe and pressing operating challenges facing healthcare leaders and clinicians – but, despite that, the effort to mitigate and reverse climate change cannot be delayed,” Don Berwick, M.D., president emeritus and senior fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, said in the announcement. “The effects of climate change pose an immense threat to human health, and it is incumbent on all of us to accelerate sustainable practices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions within healthcare”

The commission has also launched an online resource center offering key strategies, tools and content to help organizations get started or build on existing sustainability work.

Hospitals can begin working toward certification immediately and apply as soon as Jan. 1, 2024. Prior to this formal launch date, interested hospitals may complete a pre-application form