This post originally appeared on the KQED blog Climate Watch.

By Kamal Menghrajani

Solar panels on the roof of Kaiser's hospital in Modesto will help the Oakland-based health care system reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo: Kaiser Permanente)

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.

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,2012Lisa Aliferis


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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