This past week, the Joint Commission (JC) decided to make their proposed sustainability-focused accreditation standards optional, following pushback from key stakeholders across the health sector. The proposed standards, which are expected to be rolled out in 2024, will give “extra credit” to (previously would require) hospitals that designate a person to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by measuring specific data, establishing a roadmap towards GHG reduction, and monitoring progress. One step forward and one-half step back?
While the JC’s original proposal represents a somewhat consolidated push towards climate action in the health sector, its switch to optional likewise reveals the significant obstacles yet to be surmounted. According to a statement from Jonathan Perlin, CEO of the JC, to Fierce Healthcare, negative feedback has mostly come from senior administrators who are preoccupied with real concerns over their patients, workforces, and finances. Yet the staggering statistics regarding the health sector’s contribution to the climate crisis are difficult to ignore: in the US alone, the health sector is responsible for 8.5% of total GHG emissions—a number that has increased by 6% from 2010 to 2018. From an investor standpoint, the confluence of these statistics and the JC’s proposed regulation has us wondering… will green tech soon move into healthcare?
Let’s take a look at a couple of the major changemakers in health sector climate action. Health Care Without Harm, an environmental advocacy group, has been leading the charge since 1996. Fast forward to January of 2021, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) established the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) to address the impact of climate change on health, and, conversely, the role of the health system in climate change. Bolstered by President Biden’s climate agenda, the health sector has been increasingly indicted as a perpetrator of climate change, rather than simply a recipient of its impact (ie. the climate crisis’ detrimental effect on health).
Agencies and advocacy groups like those aforementioned have provided resources and tools to support health systems move towards sustainability. Health Care Without Harm’s Climate Impact Checkup tool, for example, allows hospitals to measure their GHG footprint across all three scopes, while also integrating strategies to reach sustainability goals. This and similar resources take a first step towards reducing the “barrier to entry,” if you will, between hospitals and climate action. And several hospitals and supply chain companies have taken up the torch, addressing various aspects of their environmental footprint by, for example, pledging carbon neutrality or managing waste. Although the relatively recent attention towards sustainability in the health sector has no doubt been, at a minimum, contributed to by the current administration’s climate agenda, strong tailwinds in other industries and at an overarching governmental level across the globe make it seemingly impossible for the health sector to remain in the shadows for long.
Currently, a quick Google search for “green tech companies in the health sector” comes back null, with the few search term matches remarking on the impact of climate change on health, rather than the impact of the health system on climate change. But, as health systems become increasingly motivated, or eventually required, to take climate action—both within their walls and within their supply chain—green tech is likely to meet their call. And, given the breadth of the health sector’s contribution to the climate crisis, there are countless opportunities for groundbreaking innovation ahead.
Joint Commission plans to make proposed sustainability standards optional (fiercehealthcare.com)
'You can't have healthy people on a sick planet': How healthcare is correcting its role in climate change | Fierce Healthcare
Health Care Climate Council | Health Care Without Harm (noharm-uscanada.org)
How the U.S. Health Care System Contributes to Climate Change | Commonwealth Fund,
'Podnosis': Healthcare’s relationship to climate change (fiercehealthcare.com)