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Healthcare climate accountability starts with suppliers

July 28, 2023
Business Affairs
Lars Thording
By Lars Thording

Hospital sustainability directors (and others with similar responsibilities) are tasked with quantifying the environmental impact of various green initiatives pursued by the hospital. Unfortunately, actual accounting is hard to come by.

We know the topline numbers: Healthcare’s climate footprint is equivalent to 4.4 percent of global net emissions, and the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions from hospitals are scope 3 emissions. According to research from Health Care Without Harm, “71% are primarily derived from the health care supply chain (Scope 3) through the production, transport, and disposal of goods and services, such as pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, food and agricultural products, medical devices, hospital equipment, and instruments.”

This means that when hospitals are asked to account for their carbon emissions, they primarily rely on their suppliers to provide these numbers.

Recently, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) hosted a series of webinars to teach healthcare organizations effective carbon accounting, including Scope 3 emissions. “Carbon accounting is the process of measuring, tracking, and reporting an organization’s greenhouse gas emissions,” NAM says. "This helps organizations understand how they are contributing to climate change and how they can most effectively reduce their emissions.”

More recently, Practice Greenhealth has taken this even further by providing its own emissions impact calculator for healthcare. This powerful tool will allow health systems and facilities to measure Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, helping them “take their first step on the path to emissions measurement, reporting, and reduction efforts.” It is the first free, publicly available tool of its kind for healthcare organizations. The calculator was developed following the GHG Protocol, the world’s most widely used accounting standard for greenhouse gases.

These initiatives are helpful, and they demonstrate the need for healthcare to become accountable for its carbon emissions footprint. They also make a critical point: You can’t effectively address the climate impact of healthcare until you can put numbers on carbon emissions. Without those numbers, there is no true accountability, only talk.

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