Most clinicians believe hospitals should address climate change, Commonwealth Fund survey finds

Four in five clinicians believe it’s important for their hospital to address climate change and that doing so is aligned with their organization’s mission, a new survey has found.

The survey was conducted by the Commonwealth Fund and reached 1,001 clinicians in October 2023 about their views of what health systems can do to address climate change. The U.S. healthcare sector is responsible for about 8.5% of greenhouse gas emissions, largely from hospital care and from physician and clinical services. 

Sustainability efforts require organizational buy-in to reduce waste and water consumption, green buildings, protect facilities from extreme weather, shift to renewable energy and other activities. And buy-in from frontline workers is especially important, per a report on the survey's findings.

Three in four clinicians feel it’s important that they personally play a role in reducing environmental impact while at work, while four in five said they should try to do so outside of work. Responses were similar by geographic region, gender, age, provider type and organizational tenure.

About 6 in 10 clinicians indicated a prospective employer’s policies and actions on climate change would impact their decision to apply for a job. More than half said their organization’s climate policies and actions affected their decision to remain in their current job.

“Our survey’s findings suggest clinicians overwhelmingly want their employers to be working to address climate change,” the report said. “Hospitals actively engaged in addressing climate change and minimizing their environmental impact may have an easier time retaining and recruiting clinical staff.”

Among clinicians not in leadership roles, three-quarters agreed that addressing climate issues is important to their institution’s overall mission. This figure was even higher among those in organizational leadership roles, representing 246 respondents, at 84%.

Leader-led initiatives underway

The two most commonly reported activities that organizations are undertaking, as reported by respondents in leadership roles, are reducing waste (76%) and energy consumption (69%). Another 44% said they are working to understand the organization’s emissions footprint and more than a third on defining or setting emissions targets. A similar number of organizations are also measuring and reporting progress on emissions reduction targets, they said.

A majority of hospitals and health systems plan to be engaged in all the activities that the survey asked about within three years, per the survey.

The survey also found that 71% of those in leadership roles said their organization was focused on creating emergency preparedness plans in response to increased risk of severe weather events like hurricanes, wildfires and heat waves. About 4 in 10 say their organizations are establishing governance mechanisms like appointing a chief sustainability officer or integrating emissions reduction into strategic planning processes. Just 16% are tying executive pay to climate goals. 

How to do the work

Organizations can take advantage of financial incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act to help finance their efforts to reduce their environmental impact, the Commonwealth Fund wrote. That includes new or expanded tax credits for energy efficiency in commercial buildings, incentives for installing solar power panels and incentives for adopting other forms of renewable energy. 

They could also take advantage of tax credits for electric vehicles in commercial fleets. These federal funds are also available to organizations that don’t pay taxes, like nonprofit hospitals, the report noted.

Other resources cited in the report include a decarbonization framework developed by New York University’s Stern Center for Sustainable Business, a decarbonization guide for board directors by the Black Directors Health Equity Agenda, the National Academy of Medicine’s Climate Collaborative, the Health Care Climate Council’s Climate Action Playbook and the Bipartisan Policy Center’s best practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.