Providence's Climate Action Plan

Tree standing alone amid clear boxes

[3 MIN READ]

Key takeaways:

  • Providence has a strategic climate plan that outlines five areas to address to reach our goal of being carbon negative by 2030.
  • Climate resilience is a key part of Providence’s plan to ensure the health of communities.
  • Providence leaders are setting the tone and pace of the environmental transformation.
  • Recent changes are already producing tangible results.

Pope Francis, in writing Laudato Si in 2015, said “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” We believe this, recognizing that this complex crisis cannot be dismantled. The value of justice tells us that to care for the poor and vulnerable means we need to care for our common home, earth, at the same time.

Our decisions are evidence based. By following climate, biological and social scientists, we recognize that our social and environmental crises are worsening, only to be amplified by a warming planet, and that we need ambitious commitment and bold action to slow the damage and its impact on health for all.

Setting the climate goal

In 2019, Providence leaders reviewed and discussed several options for potential climate action commitment. We examined a range of commitment possibilities including addressing the emissions associated with our electricity only, energy only, Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol scopes 1 and 2 only, adding a subset of scope 3, or to address all GHG emissions, direct and indirect. Our preferred approach was to address all emissions, through mitigation first, offsetting the remainder, and then to offset or remove even more, resulting in being carbon negative. We are focusing on all GHG emissions across all three scopes, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents.

In addition, we reviewed the span of our commitment. We considered addressing emissions from acute sites only (over 50 hospitals), all our clinical sites (hospitals, ambulatory centers, home health, virtual health), or from all aspects of Providence including office buildings, companies we have developed, and investments. We recognized that we are obligated to include the span of the entire organization.

We reviewed the timeframe of our commitment. Scientists have indicated that time is of the essence and action in our current decade will be extremely impactful to determine whether humans can limit global temperature rise to an amount that will be manageable. We recognized that we need to act now, and to encourage others to do the same. Thus, we committed to bold action by 2030.

By committing to address all emissions by 2030, across our entire organization, our message is clear. We exist to support our vision of health for a better world, and we are taking a bold step toward transforming our organization, while reaching out to our own caregivers, the communities we serve, governmental agencies, and partner organizations to amplify our efforts. On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day our president, Rod Hochman, MD, announced our goal to become carbon negative by 2030. This was particularly meaningful, as we were on the front lines of addressing COVID-19 and understood the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and climate change on communities living in poverty.

Our climate plan

Our strategic plan is organized into four broad areas:

1. Emissions reduction

Based on the Providence WE ACT framework, which outlines five focus areas that will help us achieve our goal of carbon negativity:WeACT logo showing how Providence will become carbon negative by 2030

  • Waste
  • Energy/water
  • Agriculture/Food
  • Chemicals
  • Transportation

 

Waste

We have set a goal, to send less than 50% of total waste to landfill or incineration by 2030. We are conducting a “waste optimization” process in 2021-2022 to ensure that all sites are sending the right waste to the right disposal pathway. We will work to maximize recycling, composting, and most important, source reduction.

Energy and water

Our Plan is to minimize energy and water intensity of our buildings through conservation and efficient new building design and modernization.  The balance of electricity consumption will be served with renewable energy to the extent practical.  We predict that we can mitigate 96% of emissions from electricity. Through efficiency, conversion to electric heating technologies, and smart building operations, we anticipate being able to mitigate 15% of our natural gas emissions. We will evaluate technologies for direct carbon capture from our operations. Many of the communities we serve are at risk for water supply and as such we have an obligation to be a part of the solution through water conservation practices.  We have developed a water reduction plan and are systematically converting to low-water landscape, high-performing low-flow fixtures, and water saving technologies for our water-consuming processes.

Agriculture and food

We have contracted with a large 3rd-party vendor who is both committed and contractually obligated to help support our efforts to reduce waste, choose lower carbon intensive foods, and support local and sustainable foods. We believe we can decrease emissions significantly through reducing food waste during meal preparation, and by composting food waste where feasible.

Chemicals

Our clinical work in anesthetic choice and use have resulted in a 50% emissions reduction (and millions of dollars saved) from inhaled anesthetics and believe we can reach a 90% reduction. We are developing best practices for nitrous oxide delivery and monitoring and believe we can reduce emissions by 90%.

Transportation

We monitor four aspects of business travel, including flights, rental cars, hotels, and reimbursed miles used in care delivery. We anticipate decreasing business travel emissions from a 2019 baseline by 50%. We will develop plans to electrify our fleet vehicles through purchase and lease. We are surveying employee commuting across our operations and plan to decrease emissions from commuting by 30% through electrification of the transportation sector, remote work initiatives and alternative forms of commuting. We work with our vendors to become EPA Smart Way certified and encourage them to electrify their fleets.

The effectiveness of this program is dependent on access to reliable cost and consumption data, and we are building the “WE ACT Data Scorecard” with Providence caregivers at our Providence Global Center in Hyderabad, India. They can track utility cost and usage data from our partner Schneider Electric and their Resource Advisor database in formats that bring insights to our operators. They are incorporating vendor and other data from each of the WE ACT categories, which will result in an ongoing, monthly update of use, cost, and carbon footprint for each acute care hospital.

Our procurement patterns represent a substantial portion of our estimated carbon footprint (38.4%) in the categories of goods & services and capital purchases. To begin to tackle the challenge of decreasing emissions from procurement, we have developed and approved our first Environmentally Preferred Purchasing Policy. This system-wide policy instructs caregivers to consider the environmental impacts of their purchasing decisions, using the WE ACT framework as a guide. In addition, we are working with our key vendors to understand the emissions from the products they manufacture and/or sell and deliver. With more transparency from our vendors and a better understanding of purchasing patterns, we aim to decrease emissions from working with vendors on their own emissions reduction strategies, and to reduce ours through source reduction and efficient management.  Our new construction projects are beginning to be designed with consideration and better understanding of embodied energy in building products and installation.

We are developing additional tools, guidelines, and plans to help advance our carbon emissions reduction, a few of which are listed here:

  • Nitrous Oxide Assessment and Management Plan
  • Waste Optimization Playbook
  • Water Reduction Plan
  • Green Team Toolkit
  • Commuter Data and Best Practices Guide
  • Climate Action Plan

2. Health and resilience 

In alignment with our vision of health for a better world, we are committed to helping to build climate resilience in the communities we serve. To guide us, we have developed an Environmental Justice Collaborative comprised of Providence leaders to ensure that the support we provide with community partners is equitable and inclusive, while working to diminish further environmental harm.

Climate change and pollution contribute to disease and suffering. Healthcare operations, whose purpose is to heal and help, worsens health through its inadvertent pollution. This is a cycle we want to slow and ultimately stop.

An estimated 80% of Providence caregivers are clinicians. Clinicians often have a professional directive to do no harm, or to practice safely. They are well educated, and in positions of leadership and impact within their communities. Further, clinicians can assess practice issues and change policies, processes and purchasing to decrease their environmental impacts. For example, hundreds of our anesthesia providers have reduced greenhouse gas emissions significantly by selecting environmentally safer inhaled anesthesia agents. Nurses across the health system reduce waste through proper segregation and product selection. Pharmacists are decreasing waste by establishing consumer drug take-back programs. Respiratory therapists are helping decrease greenhouse gas emissions from nitrous oxide leakage. For these reasons, we are launching our Environmental Stewardship Clinical Collaborative to engage clinicians from all disciplines as they address their specific practice challenges.
 

3. Commitment and engagement

Active engagement and involvement of caregivers, patients and family, and community members is crucial to meeting the challenge of transforming how we deliver healthcare. Engagement is achieved through alignment with our mission and core values, education, and communication.

Our mission leaders provide guidance, reminders, and perspective about the challenges and necessity of caring for our common home, our earth. Mission leaders serve on all our key organizational structures and help communicate / educate about the importance of our environmental stewardship commitment and its connection to our mission, vision, and values.

We offer regular communications in many ways, including newsletters, articles, blogs, educational video events, external live events, an intranet (SharePoint) site, and many resources and toolkits.

We enjoy several important partnerships. Schneider Electric provides easy to access data on our utility cost and usage and carbon emissions, as well as several scope 3 elements. We are in a long-term partnership with Microsoft, committed to working together toward our parallel carbon negative goals. We value our partnership with Healthcare Without Harm, Practice Greenhealth, and the U.S. EPA ENERGY STAR program. We have been founding members of the US Healthcare Climate Council, the California Healthcare Climate Alliance, and the Washington Healthcare Climate Alliance.

Providence values caregiver engagement and volunteerism. Our environmental stewardship commitment engages caregivers through dozens of green teams, challenges, events, and education sessions. Further, caregivers engaged with environmental stewardship volunteer regularly, in river and highway clean-ups, working in gardens, working at donation centers, serving on boards. Our team supports our Medical Supply Recovery Organization (MSRO) to collect and donate equipment and supplies that would otherwise be discarded for use in areas of need across the nation and globe. The MSRO has been operating for 28 years, and in the last two years alone we donated over 250,000 pounds of supplies.

An impactful area of engagement is in our forward-leaning advocacy for clean air and water and a stable climate. Providence was an early signatory to the We Are Still in Campaign, and the Race to Zero Campaign. Our Advocacy team is dedicated to improving stewardship of our environment by expanding policies on clean renewable energy to lessen the impact of climate change.

4. Key components

Leadership:  Providence leaders are setting the tone and pace for our environmental transformation. From Dr. Hochman, our president and CEO, to regional and ministry leaders, the need to care for our planet is understood and embraced. To carry this forward we have developed several leadership teams.

  • Environmental Stewardship Transformation Circle

Cross-divisional leadership team responsible for meeting the goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030. Regional liaisons represent the 7 regions and their ministries where the transformation happens. The group tracks outcomes, helps establish priorities, identifies resources, and ensures strategic goals are met.

  • Environmental Justice Collaborative

Justice is at the heart of environmental stewardship. We know that environmental harm, from air pollution to toxic chemicals to climate change, impact those who are more exposed, more vulnerable, or more taken advantage of. The EJ Collaborative was formed to explore issues in the communities we serve, and after learning, will make recommendation to our Providence leaders and divisions who work directly in our communities, including Community Health Investment, Community Ministry boards, advocacy, philanthropy, partner organizations, and others.

  • Environmental Stewardship Technical Advisory Committee (ESTAC)

Technical and subject matter experts who guide content, strategy, and communications for the environmental stewardship initiative.

  • Environmental Stewardship Procurement Committee

Collaboration with Providence supply chain to ensure purchases, contracts and procurement are aligned with our Environmental Stewardship goals.

  • Action Collaborative for Environmental Stewardship (ACES)

Formed in 2008, this cross-system group is open to all caregivers. Each month, they share a “State of the Green Team” from a ministry or site and enjoy an educational topic to learn more. Members value networking and being inspired by others.

Accountability: We have created a system-wide executive performance metric related to environmental stewardship, with a specific greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for each Providence operating region. Through measurement, transparency of data and comparing best practices and successes, we hold ourselves and others accountable to making progress toward our bold climate commitment.

Finance and philanthropy: Making progress in emissions reduction requires financial investment in efficiency, renewable energy, and improvement programs, and a long-term plan for sustainability of the initiative, including the purchase of carbon offsets or carbon capture strategies.

Strategic planning and integration: Providence is a large and complex organization. We use both vertical and lateral integration strategies to build and maintain cohesive plans, goal setting, and reporting of outcomes.

Climate plan results

While our bold climate goal is enormous, since our commitment in 2020 we are already seeing results. Several examples of our progress are captured in our WE ACT Year in Review.

We have performed a baseline estimated greenhouse gas inventory based on 2019 emissions, establishing incremental reduction goals from our 2019 baseline. The chart below describes our estimated greenhouse gas inventory following each category as defined by the International Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, covering Scopes 1, 2, and 3. It shows each category and the estimated percentage of Providence’s total footprint.

Table showing how Providence has lowered emissions so far

Find a doctor

Providence caregivers work to improve our planet and can improve your health. You can find a Providence provider in your area by searching in our online provider directory

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Related resources

Climate change and health: Caring for our patients and the Earth

Video: Environmental Stewardship

Is A Zero-Waste Lifestyle A Plus for Your Health?

Missoula anesthesiologists consider drug change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Share your efforts to #GoGreen every day with readers @providence.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Beth Schenk is the executive director of environmental stewardship for Providence, leading a cross-functional commitment to reduce operational pollution while addressing environmental justice and climate resilience in the communities we serve. Beth has been a Providence caregiver for over 30 years. From serving as an ICU nurse at St. Patrick in Missoula to leading nursing research across the Providence organization, Beth has nurtured her passion for environmental care. Her first successful recycling project was over 25 years ago. Since then she has led Montana’s award-winning Green 4 Good program. She co-founded Providence’s first regional environmental stewardship council. She has co-led a system-wide monthly meeting on environmental stewardship since 2008.

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