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Gary Cohen

Health care is driving climate action, for community health and the bottom line

By: Gary Cohen
From the September 2017 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News magazine

Quick question: which of the following causes the most deaths each year — war, murder, traffic accidents or fossil fuels?

The answer may surprise you. It’s fossil fuels, and by a lot. Fossil fuels and the serious consequences of climate change kill more people annually than the other three combined — and unfortunately, that harm is growing. From respiratory problems caused by poor air quality to insect-borne illnesses resulting from an expansion of hot, humid habitats, changes in our climate are triggering an increase in many of the diseases that health care treats. The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths each year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress alone, costing $2 billion to $4 billion annually in direct health costs.

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As climate change threatens more people, there’s a growing urgency to address the nexus of climate and health in the U.S. And U.S. health care is rising to the challenge. Forward-thinking hospitals and health systems are doubling down on climate-focused initiatives that create better health outcomes while reducing the industry’s impact on the planet. Leading hospitals are also proving that health care can make a big difference on climate in a short amount of time.

Boston Medical Center and Partners HealthCare were recognized recently for leading the nation in reducing greenhouse gases in the health care sector. Collectively, these Massachusetts health systems cut emissions by nearly 30 percent in just three years. The results benefit not only patients and the local community, but also the bottom line. At Boston Medical Center and Partners HealthCare, operating costs decreased as a result of their aggressive emission-reduction programs.

Here are a few other areas where hospitals are rethinking how their facilities are run, and reaping green dividends:

Renewable energy, reduced cost
Health care has led the way on energy efficiency initiatives for decades, and these programs remain the bread and butter of any energy-saving program. However, a growing number of facilities are learning that investments in renewable energy sources also create big opportunities to save money and reduce carbon emissions. According to our latest benchmark report, the facilities that generate or purchase renewable energy has increased by 82 percent in just three years. These investments can reap financial savings over many years, and with the advent of power purchase agreements, many hospitals can get a decades-long (and guaranteed) return with no up-front installation costs.
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