Hospitals deliver life-saving care to individuals, but their substantial environmental footprint can be detrimental to environmental and community health, according to a newly released book by Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser Permanente's environmental stewardship officer.
The book, Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet, says hospitals contribute 8 percent of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced in the United States. Gerwig argues the healthcare sector has an obligation to reduce its environmental impact and usher in a new industry standard for healthcare delivery — one that embraces environmental stewardship.
The book examines the intersection of healthcare and environmental health, analyzing failures and describing the revolution that is currently underway to fix them. From the health implications of climate change to creating a healthier food system and minimizing hospital waste, Gerwig provides a picture of what is happening now in the movement to sustainable healthcare and what we can expect in the future.
"Health care has a large environmental footprint, but it can also play a crucial role in addressing the major environmental challenges of our time," Gerwig writes. "The health of the environment is directly tied to the health of communities. By eliminating or mitigating environmental contributors to disease, we in healthcare can create healthier communities and help people lead healthier lives."
Recognizing that these challenges are larger than any one health organization can address alone, the book highlights how hospital systems and others in health care can come together to work toward a common goal.
So far, Kaiser Permanente has been walking its sustainability talk. In 2012, the organization committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from a 2008 baseline by 2020 through renewable energy, improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings and ambitious goals for new construction. Following up on this commitment, in 2013 the Kaiser Permanente announced it will seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification for all new construction of hospitals, large medical offices and other major projects.