Hospital, Heal Thy High-Carbon Self

Kaiser, UCSF and Stanford University Medical Center are all looking for ways to get greener

By Kamal Menghrajani

Solar panels on the roof of Kaiser's hospital in Modesto will help the Oakland-based health care provider reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

All across California, people are looking for ways to be more eco-friendly: composting, recycling, driving less, and turning out the lights. Now it looks like hospitals in the area are following suit, as Kaiser Permanente announced new ‘green’ initiatives this week.

The Oakland-based health care provider is installing fuel cells and solar panels at its hospitals and clinics throughout the state. The huge non-profit is also turning to green building techniques for new construction projects and to save energy where possible in existing facilities.

The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, or a total of 264,000 metric tons, by the year 2020.

Health care activities take a significant toll on the environment, accounting for eight percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Kaiser, with its network of 36 hospitals and more than 500 clinics, is positioned to make a serious dent in emissions.

Kaiser’s Chief Energy Officer, Ramé Hemstreet, admits that it will be expensive to get the initiative underway, but he says the projects will pay for themselves over time. “You invest a million dollars in an energy conservation measure that returns $150,000 a year in energy cost reduction, and you have a project with a 7- or 8-year payback,” he said. “We think this will both benefit the environment and benefit our members in terms of our cost profile.”

Kaiser is the latest to come on board with environmentally conscious practices that have been spreading across hospitals throughout the Bay Area.

[module align=”left” width=”half” type=”pull-quote”]“Obviously some of the manifestations of climate change can have a deleterious impact on human health.”[/module]

Stanford University Medical Center (SUMC) has been focusing efforts on waste reduction and energy efficiency. Within the last few months, managers there have taken steps such as switching from polystyrene to paper cups in patient care areas and providing biodegradable flatware with their to-go meals.

The efforts led to SUMC being flagged as a Partner for Change in April by health care environmental group Practice Greenhealth. Wesley Palmquist, Vice President of General Services for SUMC, says the Medical Center is now recycling more than 10% of its total waste stream.

UC San Francisco is trying to move toward a greener future by looking backwards, with  aggressive goals to scale back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels (also the benchmark for California’s centerpiece climate law, known as AB 32), and aiming for zero waste by the end of the decade.

All three hospital systems are seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for their new construction projects.

“Obviously some of the manifestations of climate change can have a deleterious impact on human health,” Kaiser’s Hemstreet says. “So we’re going to do our part to ensure that we’re reducing our carbon footprint.”

Hospital, Heal Thy High-Carbon Self 1 March,2012Climate Watch Correspondent

One thought on “Hospital, Heal Thy High-Carbon Self”

  1. We should copy this to all our legislators, especially those Central Valley and SoCal Republicans.  Maybe then need to go to Kaiser and learn to “thrive.”  If every industry, not just health care, were to do this, we would be well on our way to meeting 2050 targets.

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