Environmental Stewardship: 2020 WE ACT year in review

February 27, 2021 Beth Schenk

The pandemic has emphasized the importance of health and reaffirmed our belief that a healthy planet is critical for the continued health of our communities. Dr. Rod Hochman announced last April that Providence is committed to becoming carbon negative by 2030 and making environmental stewardship an organizational priority. Since then, we introduced our WE ACT framework, which outlines five focus areas that will help us achieve our goal of carbon negativity. Below are a few of our WE ACT accomplishments from the past year on our path to becoming carbon negative by 2030.

Waste – a heavy case 

Hospitals can generate 42 pounds of waste per patient, per day. As part of our goal to become carbon negative by 2030, Providence is committing to sending less than 50 percent of our total organizational waste to landfills or incineration. Some ministries, like St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana have already achieved that goal, while others, like Providence Alaska Medical Center, are well on their way with creative ways to reduce or reuse waste. Learn more about Providence waste reduction efforts.


Energy & Water – when less is more

Water and energy are critical resources and Providence is working toward large-scale efficiencies. For instance, Providence Real Estate Strategy and Operations (RESO) rolled out an effort to control heating and cooling systems in medical office buildings based on an occupancy schedule, which saves energy primarily after hours. In addition, Providence Centralia Hospital installed the largest solar array on a hospital in Washington. Further, Hospitals in California saved water and costs by upgrading their scrub sinks to antimicrobial laminar flow devices so they flow at 1.2 gallons per minute while maintaining effective water pressure. Learn more about our energy and water reduction efforts.


Agriculture & Food – a sustainable attitude

Producing food includes the use of energy and water, which results in pollution from transportation and chemicals. About 10-15 percent of a hospital’s daily solid waste comes from food. To counteract these major contributors to our overall footprint, Providence is ensuring sustainable and socially responsible food purchasing practices are written into contracts with our major vendors. In addition, ministries like Providence Milwaukie Hospital and Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center in Oregon are composting food waste and purchasing locally grown food to reduce their environmental impact. Learn more about local agriculture and food initiatives.


Chemicals – going green and clean

Chemicals can be harmful to the Earth and all living things. In the clinical environment, Providence has successfully transitioned to lower-emission anesthetics in four states and growing, achieving an 83 percent emissions reduction and a $1.79M annual cost savings. In an effort to reduce the use of chemicals, Providence Tarzana Medical Center in Los Angeles has selected sustainable materials for their new patient wing currently under construction. Learn more about our chemical reduction efforts.


Transportation - the largest contributor of Greenhouse Gases in the U.S.

From evaluating hybrid work options for when it’s safe for caregivers to return to an office setting to forming new partnerships with American Express and Medline to track emissions associated with business travel and supply chain activities, Providence is moving toward a more strategic and environmentally responsible approach to transportation. Looking back at 2020, business travel emissions decreased by over 95% as caregivers held meetings virtually due to the pandemic. Learn more about transportation efforts.


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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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