Environmental Stewardship at Providence: 2023 Year in Review

January 8, 2024 Providence Environmental Stewardship

[4 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • Providence is a leader among health systems nationally in curbing our environmental impact, as we reach toward carbon-negative by 2030.

  • Through our WE ACT, WE REACH and WE SHARE frameworks, we are practicing environmental stewardship through mitigation, resilience and advocacy in support of our planet.

  • Read on to learn about what we achieved in 2023 — and all we hope to accomplish in 2024.

A safe, healthy planet can better support safe, healthy communities. As the climate crisis grows, Providence has been a leader in curbing emissions, lowering our carbon emissions and mitigating the health impacts of climate change in the communities we serve. As we reflect on another year of environmental stewardship, we recognize our success — and the opportunities that lay ahead for supporting the health of the Earth.

“Providence has made a significant environmental stewardship commitment,” says Beth Schenk, PhD, Chief Environmental Stewardship Officer for Providence. “These commitments are important because we’re concerned about the health of the communities we serve. The climate crisis is harming that health. We are addressing pollution and working to avoid some of the harm by working with communities to keep them safe through advocacy and education.”

While there is still significant work to be done toward a goal of being carbon-negative by 2030, Providence recorded a 12.5% overall reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions compared to our 2019 baseline.

WE ACT for pollution reduction

Like many organizations, Providence began its environmental stewardship efforts with mitigation, or reducing greenhouse gas emissions, relying on their WE ACT framework and scorecard. This framework focuses on waste, energy and water, agriculture and food, chemicals, and transportation.

“We started with WE ACT, our mitigation framework, to drive down emissions,” says Schenk. “This year we added advocacy through our WE SHARE framework, and resiliency and adaptation through the WE REACH resiliency plan. Both will be key focuses in 2024 as well as reaching carbon reduction goals.”

Some of the key accomplishments from 2023 include:

  • Waste: Green teams created new streams to divert waste away from landfills (compost, recycling, donations) at most hospitals.
  • Energy and water: 31 facilities now run on 100% renewable energy, alleviating our dependence on fossil fuels at these sites.
  • Agriculture and food: 20 Providence and Swedish sites committed to the Coolfood Pledge to reduce the climate impact of meals served and curb food waste.
  • Chemical: We cut carbon emissions from volatile anesthetic agents by 57.9% and from nitrous oxide by 48.7% since 2019.
  • Travel: We achieved 69% carbon reduction from business travel since 2019.

“We have multiple projects in every WE ACT category with goals and outcomes for each to get us where we need to be by 2030 — working on all of them at once. The WE ACT scorecard has been an enormously valuable tool for measuring and demonstrating success in carbon reduction,” says Schenk.

WE REACH for resiliency

New in 2023, Providence introduced the WE REACH framework, which focuses on resilience, equity, adaptation, climate and health. Anchoring this year’s efforts was the publication of Providence’s first climate resilience plan.

Teams across Providence also hosted more than 30 meetings to educate and engage caregivers in the process of resiliency planning for infrastructure, clinical care and community engagement.

Caregiver engagement has been critical in building resiliency for environmental stewardship.

“Data are the backbone, and caregiver engagement is the secret sauce,” says Schenk. “We’re focused on partnering with our caregivers because this engagement and education provides information and meaning for people in their day-to-day work.”

WE SHARE for advocacy

Also new to Providence this year is the WE SHARE framework, which emphasizes service, health, advocacy, relationships and education. In its first year, we have advocated for our communities, created key partnerships and developed thought leadership to educate those we collaborate with. Some of the highlights from this year include:

  • Aligning environmental stewardship with our mission, even winning an award for our action plan on reducing our footprint in the Laudato Si Action Platform.
  • Advocating for health and climate at local, state, and national levels, including speaking with US Congress members and federal agencies.
  • Earning national recognition from the Practice Greenhealth awards, with 53 awards given across our health system.
  • Engaging caregivers, such as through the Providence Action Collaborative for Environmental Stewardship (ACES) that has been meeting monthly since 2008 to discuss best practices and educational updates.
  • Making purchasing more sustainable throughout our supply chain, such as through the Healthcare Anchor Network Impact Purchasing Commitment that addresses economic, racial and environmental disparities that impact community health outcomes.
  • Participating in national thought leadership, with 95 interviews, articles, podcasts and presentations about our work, as well as scholarship with more than 200 publications, posters and presentations on environmental health and stewardship by Providence authors.
  • Publishing our first environmental, social and governance (ESG) report, climate action plans and our first climate resilience plan.

This work required, and will continue to require, consistency and engagement across the Providence system. 

“It is important to maintain a consistent focus on environmental stewardship because this is complicated, long-term work,” says Schenk. “We won’t solve this problem in a day or year, but we want to establish habits of delivering care in ways that are safe for the planet and provide the compassionate, equitable care we are committed to.”

Contributing caregiver

Beth Schenk, PhD, RN, Chief Environmental Stewardship Officer for Providence 

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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