Environmental Stewardship: WE ACT for Safe Chemicals

January 21, 2021 Dr. Brian Chesebro

This article was written by guest contributor Dr. Brian Chesebro, MD

Our WE ACT framework outlines five focus areas that will make a big impact on our overall environmental footprint and help us become carbon negative by 2030. This article looks at the effect of harmful chemicals on different populations and opportunities to dispose of and avoid them. 

Harmful chemicals lead to environmental injustice  

Chemicals can be harmful for the Earth and all living things. Dangerous chemicals can enter the environment from landfills, incinerators, tanks, drums or factories. These harsh substances can also be found on plants or in animals (e.g., pesticides or growth hormones), and can get into the air we breathe, food we eat and water we drink.

For humans, harmful chemicals can lead to a variety of health concerns. In addition, vulnerable populations are disproportionately impacted by harmful chemicals, usually because they have fewer resources and opportunities to avoid them.  

Reducing harmful chemicals is a particularly important part of our commitment to advancing environmental stewardship because it aligns directly with our mission to serve all, especially the poor and vulnerable. This effort will help us raise awareness about harmful chemicals and lead by example as we address the environmental injustice to specific populations.  

System-wide efforts 

Providence has several key efforts aimed at reducing harmful chemicals in our operational and medical practices. Here are some of the things we’re doing: 

  • To ensure our buildings are as healthy as possible for our caregivers, patients and guests, all new Providence construction projects require the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver standards equivalency. The LEED standards include specific requirements regarding materials selection to avoid harmful chemicals and disclosures when harmful chemicals cannot be avoided. 

  • To meet the LEED equivalency requirement, we conducted extensive evaluations and established a system-wide selection process for indoor materials (paints, flooring, furniture, etc.), which limits the use of harmful chemicals.  

  • Recently we selected a new food services provider for our family of organizations and outlined specific sustainability requirements to be integrated into that contract. This includes serving fresh, healthy, chemical-free food. 

  • In four of our seven states, we have successfully transitioned to lower-emission anesthetics, achieving an 83-percent emissions reduction and a 65-percent cost reduction — a $1.79M annual cost savings. 

Local accomplishments 

From sustainable construction efforts to greener laundry and cleaning practices, learn more about how our caregivers are finding practical ways to limit harsh chemicals at the local and regional level 

Get involved 

Protecting our environment is a team sport, and it’s important to equip yourself with the knowledge so you can play a part. Here are some tips on how to reduce chemicals: 

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