CommonSpirit Health’s strategies for reducing emissions without breaking the bank

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In this new series, Modern Healthcare reports on real-world environmental, social and governance initiatives taking shape across healthcare organizations. 

CommonSpirit Health’s goal: achieve net-zero emissions by 2040. It has a big task ahead. The health system estimates it emitted 3.8 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019, comparable to driving 815,000 vehicles or powering 478,000 homes annually.

“We can only do so many things at one time. So where do we start within our current reality of staff shortages and money issues and everything else? The end goal is [to] just keep moving forward,” said Schelly Schlenker, chief advocacy officer.

The organization is employing a range of relatively low-cost tactics to lessen its environmental impact.

CommonSpirit is updating its hospital energy grid to use more renewable sources, such as by installing cogeneration energy systems (pictured above) to repurpose methane from local landfills to power electricity and heat for facilities—in this case, Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, California.

It’s installing new LED lights throughout various care sites, such as in this operating room at St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino, California, pictured at left.

And it’s flexing buying power to motivate supplier change. Approximately 70% of CommonSpirit’s emissions come from the supply chain. The health system worked with its vendor for IV bags to remove a chemical known as DEHP, which has been linked to causing male infertility.

It’s also teaming with its top 30 vendors to cut their climate footprint in half by 2030.

One tactic it’s avoiding, at least for now? Investing in credits to offset emissions.

“As a safety-net system committed by mission to the poor and vulnerable, as we get down that path, we will begin to make those decisions about carbon offsets,” Schlenker sadid. “But that money will be competing with other needs, whether that be charity care or access. We are going to do all of the hard work before we get to that point.”

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