Sustainability in Healthcare Industry Update: New Developments and Your Hospital

, and   |   April 12, 2023

Several sustainability developments important for hospitals and other healthcare organizations occurred in March:

  • March 9, 2023, The White House and Department of Health and Human Services (WH/HHS) announced reopening of the Health Sector Climate Pledge to new signatories on an ongoing basis after its successful launch last year.
  • March 20, 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report that summarizes the current status and trends of human-caused climate change and recommended responses to the projected risks.
  • March 22, 2023, The Joint Commission (TJC) proposed a new leadership standard for hospitals related to environmental sustainability.
  • March 31, 2023, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a categorical waiver that allows renewable energy sources to provide emergency power for hospitals.

Any one of these developments has the potential to influence the next few years of your healthcare organization. Combined, they represent a major advance toward a more sustainable healthcare industry.
WH/HHS: The Health Sector Climate Pledge is a voluntary commitment to reduce emissions and improve climate resilience. In 2022, 102 organizations representing 837 hospitals signed the Pledge. In addition to hospitals, these stakeholders include health systems, suppliers, insurance companies, group purchasing organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and more. The Joint Commission led the way for hospitals when it signed onto the Pledge in the first phase in early 2022.

IPCC: The IPCC report is a synthesis of its previous publications and highlights the trajectory of current world trends and underscores the importance of immediate action to manage impacts of a warming planet. The report highlights risks of particular importance to hospitals, such as: increases in demand for heat-related illness and infectious disease, as well as increased susceptibility of operations to disruption by severe weather and coastal flooding. Many of the recommended mitigation and adaptation options pertain directly to hospitals, including: more energy efficient buildings; reduced emissions of fluorinated gases; clean energy supply systems (see CMS section below); Health Action Plans that provide early warning and response systems for extreme heat; vector-borne disease surveillance and vaccines; and improved access to care for psychosocial impacts of extreme weather events.

TJC: The Joint Commission proposed a new Leadership standard for environmental sustainability that represents its most direct foray into climate action to date. The proposed requirements call for hospitals to: (1) designate an individual responsible for sustainability; (2) measure energy use by buildings and vehicles as well as use of anesthetic gases and pressurized metered dose inhalers; (3) develop written sustainability goals and action plans, and (4) evaluate progress and make revisions to its plans at least annually. TJC invites public comment via an on-line survey available through May 03, 2023.

CMS: The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a categorical waiver that allows for microgrid systems to supply emergency power systems required for hospitals. The waiver is based in large part on the 2021 edition of the National Fire Protection Association’s Healthcare Facilities Code (NFPA 99) that expands the previously allowable compliance paths to include microgrid systems served by fuel cells, wind, solar, and energy storage systems. This waiver helps to align applicable building codes and standards with the goals of programs like the WH/HHS Health Climate Pledge and TJC proposed environmental sustainability standards.

What does this mean for my organization?

  • If you are setting your operating budget or projecting capital plan funds, you need to consider how these developments might influence your plans.
  • If you are facing end-of-life decisions for buildings, generators, fossil fuel-based plants, and key infrastructure such as piped gas systems, you need to analyze how these developments will impact your future plans and investments.
  • If you intend or are required to elevate sustainability within your organization, we recommend that you keep abreast of developments such as these and the implications for your operations; convene a group of stakeholders to address these initiatives, and develop a management strategy supported by a data analysis and reporting system, and prepare for internal and external reporting to internal bodies such as the Board, and outside parties such as TJC.

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How can EH&E help?

EH&E has a 35-year history of assisting clients navigate complex challenges. Our team of consulting scientists, engineers, industrial hygienists, commissioning agents, safety professionals, and data scientists helps organizations measure, plan, analyze, document, and scale compliance, energy, and climate solutions. Our team has delivered more than one hundred thousand metric tons of avoided emissions just in the last few years. Our holistic approach can help your organization develop climate action plans, quantify emissions, evaluate decarbonization options, increase building energy efficiency, lower energy costs, develop goals, identify decarbonization strategies, measure progress, and mitigate risk, all while collaborating effectively with stakeholders and enhancing facility and organizational performance. Contact us today to speak with one of our experts.