Partnering for good: How collaboration can reduce emissions

November 13, 2023 Providence Environmental Stewardship


In this article:

  • The health care sector emits 8.5% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. With such a sizable impact, Providence is working to reduce emissions – while bringing other health care systems along the way.

  • Building lasting, scalable change can’t be done alone. That’s why Providence collaborates with partners across the health care, technology and regulatory spaces.

  • Read on to learn more about how Providence is partnering to reduce our – and the health care sector’s – footprint.

For the last 30 years, Providence has been working to reduce our environmental impact to better support the communities we serve. That’s because conservation and caring for our common home is part of Providence’s commitment.

“As the climate crisis has gotten worse, our communities have lived through the effects of climate change in our part of the world with heavy smoke, air pollution, fires and flooding,” says Beth Schenk, Ph.D., chief environmental stewardship officer for Providence. “With these health impacts of climate change, it became more and more clear that we need to be an active participant in addressing this crisis.”

Through our WE ACT framework, which focuses on reducing emissions through waste, energy and water, agriculture and food, chemicals, and transportation, Providence is a leader in environmental stewardship in health care.

Though we’ve made strides as we’re working toward becoming carbon-negative by 2030, we cannot do it alone. Health care accounts for 8.5% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Reducing these emissions and curbing resource depletion, such as reducing the number of single-use products used throughout our ministries, contributes to climate-safe health care delivery. Collaborating with partners means Providence can do more together than we could on our own.

“We have an opportunity to amplify our voices by collaborating on climate action and environmental stewardship,” says Schenk. “Health systems, hospitals and clinics mostly do things in similar ways. We buy similar products, operate under the same rules and follow the same regulations. When we can share solutions, we can drive change that scales.”

Finding the right partners to reduce emissions

Providence partners with numerous organizations to create climate-safe, sustainable health care. These include state and local governments, hospital associations, faith-based groups and professional organizations.

“Health care is complex because we have a lot of challenges, including caring for people in extreme situations,” says Schenk. “It is most helpful for us to work with partners who understand health care and are trying to make changes in similar ways as we are.”

These partners all understand how health care organizations contribute to climate change and are interested in helping the sector do better and advance solutions that reduce its carbon footprint and build climate resilience.

“We bring real-life experience to the field,” says Schenk. “We have 51 experiments with our 51 hospitals that we can contribute to conversations. Most importantly, it’s helping move the sector forward.”

Some of these partners include:

  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
  • American Hospital Association
  • American Medical Association
  • American Nurses Association
  • Catholic Health Association
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity
  • Healthcare Anchor Network
  • Healthcare Without Harm
  • Institute for Healthcare Improvement
  • The American Society for Health Care Engineering
  • The Joint Commission
  • The National Academy of Medicine Decarbonization Collaborative

Importantly, much of the work Providence does is at the local level in partnership with community groups based on community needs.

“We ran an environmental justice scan that looked at the issues impacting health across the regions we serve,” says Schenk. “We looked at what neighborhoods are impacted and what groups are already working on it that we can partner with.”

Achieving emissions reductions

These partnerships have paid dividends for broad emissions reduction efforts. For example, through some of Providence’s work with The Joint Commission, the organization began to evolve its standards to include environmental stewardship as part of how hospitals should function. They are launching their first voluntary standard for environmental stewardship in health care in January. Additionally, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement began evaluating health care products and purchasing and developed a learning community for health systems.

“When it comes to purchasing, Providence is working with other health systems and suppliers to encourage more transparency in reporting emissions and increasing availability of safe, reusable products throughout our supply chain,” says Schenk.

This work has yielded measurable emissions reductions and financial impacts, including:

  • Reducing carbon emissions in hospitals by more than 12% across scopes 1, 2 and 3.
  • Saving $11.5 million annually through conservation efforts.
  • Operating on 100% renewable electricity at 31 Providence health care facilities.
  • Implementing waste reduction efforts and reducing carbon emissions from anesthetic agents and business travel.
  • Developing an environmental stewardship database and scorecard to continuously track success against climate goals.
  • Advocating for environmental stewardship in health care, including testifying at a session of Congress, taking the HHS Health Sector Pledge, contributing to the Washington Clean Buildings Bill and participating in Seattle and Portland decarbonization initiatives.

Collaborating for a better world

Partnerships mean Providence is better able to reduce our pollution, focus on health and justice for individuals and communities, and care for our common home for future generations. One of the ways Providence has been successful in these efforts is by engaging caregivers in this journey.

“Data is the backbone of our program and caregiver engagement is the secret sauce,” says Schenk. “We take engagement very seriously because our caregivers are who can make the changes in daily work and practice to reduce pollution. So far, we have local or regional ‘green teams’ representing 80% of our hospitals that offer a place where people can get engaged, learn more, volunteer in their communities and care for our common home.”

Additionally, Providence benefits from a highly engaged leadership team that has supported and empowered environmental stewardship efforts across the organization.

“It’s important to have strong leadership, but leadership alone is not enough,” says Schenk. We need engaged caregivers throughout the organization to apply principles of environmental stewardship to change how we deliver care.”

With these partnerships, Providence is just scratching the surface of the possibilities for how the health care sector can collaborate for decarbonization. Now, it’s time for everyone to get involved.

“No one can do this work alone,” says Schenk. “We need to work together. It’s very satisfying to see that happening now.”

Contributing Caregiver

Beth Schenk, Ph.D., RN, serves as chief environmental stewardship officer for Providence. 

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Related resources

Charging forward: How Providence is working to curb transportation emissions

A new way to count calories: How Providence is cutting back on food waste

Providence St. Joseph Hospital recognized for excellence in environmental stewardship

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

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