Earth day can’t wait: We need to act now on climate change

November 1, 2021 Christine Cox

Globe on a field of green clover.


In this article: 

  • Providence made a commitment to be carbon negative by 2030. 
  • Healthcare systems contribute to the climate crisis and must be part of the conversation to reduce emissions. 
  • Providence's mission of justice extends beyond the individual to mean caring for our common home.

Climate change is a global public health crisis.

This bold statement is becoming more evident every day. The ever-evolving reality of climate change is why Providence made a commitment to be carbon negative by 2030. We believe now is the time to get proactive in our efforts to address how climate change is impacting our everyday health.

To help raise awareness around our collective public health crisis, Providence launched the Earth Day Can’t Wait campaign. The climate threat posed to our planet and our collective health is too important to wait until April to talk about.

Did you know that the healthcare industry is 8.5% of the global climate crisis problem?

Climate change affects us all in different ways, and with over 120,000 caregivers across 7 states we’ve seen many variants. From more heatstroke in the elderly and vulnerable populations to increased air pollution, wildfire threats to communities and aggravation of respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD.  

As a health system committed to serving the poor and vulnerable, a segment of our population disproportionately impacted by climate change, we saw the need to prioritize our carbon negative goal during a time of great uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We want to do our part to help fight climate change. Our patients and communities deserve action.

Our commitment to urgent action is why Providence was invited to take part in the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) during the first two weeks in November.

What is COP26?

COP26 is a global conference that brings businesses, policy makers and thought leaders together to find ways to accelerate action toward the climate goals laid out in the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The goals of the summit include:

  • Securing global net zero carbon emissions by mid-century
  • Adaptation to protect communities and the environment
  • Mobilizing financial assistance
  • Accelerating actions taken together to make the biggest impact

Providence’s commitment to be carbon negative by 2030 drew international attention, specifically because we are the only U.S. health system to date to make this bold commitment, especially since we are including all our greenhouse gas emissions, both direct and indirect. This opportunity puts Providence in a unique position to help set sustainability benchmarks for health systems around the world and to lead by example.

As the British Medical Journal The Lancet says: “climate change is the greatest global health threat facing the world in the 21st century, but it is also the greatest opportunity to redefine the social and environmental determinants of health.” 

What is Earth Day Can’t Wait?

The Earth Day observance every April is a key moment in time, but the climate crisis is an always-on phenomenon, and we need always-on action to truly affect change.

The Earth Day Can’t Wait campaign is designed to raise awareness of the need for expedited climate action and illustrate the effective initiatives Providence has taken to be carbon negative by 2030. The COP26 conference is a unique, highly visible opportunity to start a conversation about how climate change affects our health.

Throughout the campaign, Providence leaders, clinicians and caregivers will share advice about ways every individual can make small changes that have a big impact. Specifically, we will address issues around real health threats from climate change, eco-anxiety and our children, and things you can do to protect your health.  

Insights and advice from Providence experts will be published on the Providence blog. Learn more about our WE ACT framework and sustainability programs across Providence’s seven-state system here.

Why patients should care about Providence’s climate action plan

US healthcare unintentionally contributes 8.5% of the nation’s greenhouse gases and 27% of healthcare emissions worldwide. As contributors to the crisis, we feel that health systems need to be part of the conversation to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve our planet.

In April 2020, Providence shared the WE ACT framework— a guide for how we will reach our ambitious goal to become carbon negative by 2030. The WE ACT framework focuses on 5 areas:

  • Waste – we will send less than 50% of our waste to landfill or incineration by 2030
  • Energy and water efficiency and conservation, and shifting to renewable energy
  • Agriculture and Food with lower carbon intensity, less waste, local, sustainable and healthy
  • Chemicals with lower greenhouse gas emissions, reducing chemicals of concern
  • Transportation that pollutes less, including business travel, fleet vehicles, and employee commuting

To meet these goals, we are rethinking our operations to reduce our impact on the planet. From making environmentally sound decisions about the products we purchase to focusing on sourcing local and sustainable foods for our hospitals, these changes will help us make progress to our goal.

The Providence mission of justice

Our mission is to remain steadfast in serving all, especially those who are poor and vulnerable. To meet that mission, we can’t ignore the impact of climate change on communities disproportionately bearing the burden of changes to the environment. As Beth Schenk, Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship at Providence, explains, “people who are poor and vulnerable by race, economics, education, gender, or age are often less protected. And that vulnerability means they are exposed to the harms from environmental issues, including climate change. For instance, they may live closer to major freeways and industrial sites, or they live in lower quality housing, or may be unhoused; these communities face extreme vulnerabilities. We take our commitment to justice seriously, including environmental justice.”

To us, justice extends beyond caring for individuals to caring for our common home − Earth.

“We also have to think about justice to future generations and to the young people today,” says Schenk. “I often say that all people who are adults right now on the planet need to work on this. That’s part of what we owe the future generations.”

We live in a time when consumers are educating themselves and expressing a preference to engage with brands that share their values. We know people have a choice about where they receive care, and with initiatives such as Earth Day Can’t Wait, we hope to connect with people who share our value-driven commitment to address the global health crisis caused by climate change.

Improving the climate and healthcare

With an ambitious goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030, Providence has set a bar for optimizing operations to be more environmentally sustainable. These optimizations are not just smart business. The changes we are making to be better stewards of our shared environment will also bring more efficiencies in the way we deliver care to our patients and communities.

“Providence is committed to environmental stewardship. It’s a matter of good management because improved operations drive us to be a more efficient system overall,” Schenk explains. “Providence continues to provide great patient satisfaction and very high-quality outcomes from our clinical practices. Through our focus on efficiency and environmental stewardship, we also see cost savings, caregiver engagement, and alignment with our mission, all while taking action to improve the environment.”

We hope you’ll join us on this important endeavor to find ways to preserve our planet for future generations. Together, we have an opportunity to truly change the world.

Learn more about Providence’s environmental stewardship efforts.


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Related resources

Providence's Climate Action Plan

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