Caring for our common home: Environmental stewardship at Providence

July 3, 2024 Providence Environmental Stewardship

[5 MIN READ]

In this article:

  • Providence is a leader among health systems nationally in curbing our environmental impact, working 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 where Providence is taking our environmental stewardship efforts in 2024 and beyond. 

A safe, healthy planet can better support safe, healthy communities. As an anchor institution in our communities, Providence knows it is essential for health care to lead the work in curbing our collective environmental impact to improve the health of those we serve. That is why we have stepped forward to help pave the way in reducing our emissions and sharing our learnings with others. 

As the climate crisis grows, Providence has been a leader in curbing our emissions, reducing our carbon emissions and addressing the health impacts of climate change in our communities. But our work is not done yet. While we reflect on our success, we also understand the scale of the opportunities that lie ahead for supporting the health of the Earth and those who live on it. 

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

As part of our efforts to curb our environmental impact, the Providence Center for Environmental Stewardship has developed three key frameworks as part of a strategic plan for ensuring the health of our communities and planet: 

  1. WE ACT for pollution reduction
  2. We REACH for resiliency
  3. We SHARE for advocacy

“Providence has made a significant environmental stewardship commitment,” says Beth Schenk, PhD, executive director of environmental stewardship 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.”

WE ACT: Mitigation

                   

Like many organizations, Providence began its environmental stewardship efforts with mitigation, guided by the WE ACT framework and scorecard. This framework focuses on waste, energy and water, agriculture and food, chemicals, and transportation. 

Some of the key initiatives for Providence’s mitigation efforts include:

  • Waste: The system has an optimization goal to divert more than half of waste from landfills by 2030, through proper segregation, efforts such as composting, donations and recycling, and most importantly, by reducing the waste we create in the first place through better purchasing and more efficient practices. Providence is well on the way to achieving this mark with all hospitals participating in waste reduction efforts.  
  • Energy and water: Providence is working toward a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030. 89 facilities are now powered by 100% renewable electricity, alleviating our dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Agriculture and food: As a system, Providence is committed to a goal of reducing the carbon intensity of meals served, reducing food waste, and maintaining local, sustainable and healthy foods. 30 Providence and Swedish sites committed to the Coolfood Pledge to reduce the climate impact of meals served and curb food waste and more than 40 sites have started composting programs. 
  • Chemicals: To decrease greenhouse gas emissions from anesthesia practice, all hospitals have transitioned to more efficient nitrous oxide delivery, causing significantly fewer emissions. The system is also transitioning to using more climate-safe anesthetic agents, nearly eliminating those gases with the highest emissions. 
  • Travel: With a goal of lowering carbon emissions from travel and transportation, Providence achieved 69% carbon reduction from business travel since 2019. 

To measure success against each of these goals and guide decision-making, Providence has developed the WE ACT scorecard which has tracked usage, cost and carbon emissions from dozens of categories since its implementation in 2019.  

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

We REACH: Resiliency and adaptation 

 

Keeping our communities healthy also means responding to the current challenges of climate impacts and risks we see today. Providence is committed to resiliency, or the ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from the impacts of climate change. We are focused on resilience because climate emergencies quickly turn into health emergencies with lasting effects on the well-being of the communities we serve.

In addition to the WE ACT framework and scorecard, Providence introduced the We REACH framework, which focuses on resilience, equity, adaptation, climate and health. Our climate resilience work is rooted in environmental justice, recognizing the need to support vulnerable communities in the face of climate change. As part of this framework, Providence created a Climate Resiliency Plan which focuses on:

  • Clinical care and operations
  • Critical infrastructure
  • Community connections

 

Teams across Providence work to educate and engage caregivers in climate resilience planning for these crucial areas.

We SHARE: Advocacy and leadership

Finally, the We SHARE framework emphasizes service, health, advocacy, relationships and education. We have advocated for our communities, created key partnerships and developed thought leadership to educate those we collaborate with. Some of these key engagement initiatives include:

  • Advocating for environmental health and justice, including speaking to congressional members in Washington, D.C. and collaborating with state legislators, city planners and local organizers in our communities. 
  • Partnering with the Healthcare Anchor Network, through their Impact Purchasing Commitment to address economic, racial and environmental disparities that impact community health outcomes.
  • Collaborating with national organizations, such as the American Hospital Association, the National Academy of Medicine, the Joint Commission, Health Care Without Harm, and others, to address climate and health challenges. 
  • Using our voice as health care leaders, with hundreds of interviews, articles, podcasts and presentations about our work, as well as scholarship with publications, posters and presentations on environmental health and stewardship by Providence authors.
  • Educating others, including publishing multiple annual environmental, social and governance (ESG) reports, climate action plans and climate resiliency plans, as well as engaging through the Providence Center for Environmental Stewardship

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

“It is important to maintain a steadfast 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 that allow people and communities to thrive.”  

Contributing caregiver

Beth Schenk, PhD, is the executive director of environmental stewardship for Providence.  

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Related resources

Providence Center for Environmental Stewardship

Environmental Justice at Providence

Providence Climate Action Plan

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

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