The largest U.S. nonprofit integrated healthcare system, Kaiser Permanente, plans to be carbon neutral in 2020 as part of a larger environmental initiative.
Kaiser uses more than 1 million megawatts annually. The health system's recent purchase agreement for 180 megawatts of clean energy (enough to power 27 of its 39 hospitals) will enable the system to develop solar and wind farms and one of the largest battery-energy storage systems with NextEra Energy Resources, it said.
The health system will locate its solar farm and battery storage in eastern Riverside County in Southern California and its wind farm in Arizona. The project is expected to come online in 2020 and 2021, and makes the company the largest purchaser of renewable energy in the U.S. healthcare sector, according to a press release.
Kaiser is a major force in healthcare, especially in California. So while the company's efforts might not result in a significant difference environmentally, it does put a big name behind the effort of environmentalism and might prompt other health systems to follow suit.
A Commonwealth Fund report earlier this year found that the U.S. healthcare sector accounted for around 10% of the carbon dioxide generated in the U.S. in 2011. That amount of carbon dioxide could account for nearly 200,000 premature deaths connected to air pollution annually in the U.S., according to that study.
The Commonwealth Fund suggested that health systems and companies can improve health by lowering emissions. "This might not only reduce the cost of care — one of the biggest woes ailing the U.S. health system — but also help fulfill the obligations that come with the industry's size, its huge carbon footprint and its mission to improve health. Effective strategies for addressing climate change should become an essential attribute of high-performing health systems in the future, especially in the United States," the group said.
The carbon neutral goal is part of Kaiser's renewable energy program that looks to reduce greenhouse gases. CEO Bernard Tyson said the company's effort is about confronting climate change and preventing climate-related illness.
Increases in asthma and other respiratory ailments, the spread of infectious diseases, heat-related diseases and injuries from severe weather and wildfires are all linked to climate change. The effort is a way to help "protect the health of the more than 68 million people in the communities we serve," Tyson said.
We know #ClimateChangesHealth. We are proud to make bold moves to mitigate the effects of climate change on health. With our recent investment in clean, renewable energy, we are on track to become carbon neutral in 2020. #GCAS2018 https://t.co/Jk8GhzRor1 pic.twitter.com/phf7L9QJm4— Kaiser Permanente (@KPShare) September 10, 2018
The integrated system said its environmental efforts over the past decade have already made a dent. So far the company has reduced its net greenhouse gas emissions by 29% over 10 years, cut water usage by 12% per square foot of building space since 2013, opened California's first LEED Platinum hospital with the Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center and issued $1 billion green bonds to fund LEED platinum and gold building projects.