By the Northwest Permanent Corporate Social Responsibility Team
The link between climate change and health is undeniable. With climate change comes increased threats of wildfires, infectious disease outbreaks, flooding, and other extreme-weather-related events. These events will result in increased adverse health impacts as well as threaten our health care infrastructure. Vulnerable populations will be disproportionately impacted and require our support. As an industry, we need to do better. If the U.S. health care industry were a country, it would sit behind England as #13 in the world in terms of contributions to GHG.
We know that the intersection between health and climate is critical to Northwest Permanente’s mission to provide integrated, value-based care that is physician-led and person-centered.
Who is Northwest Permanente?
Northwest Permanente is the largest self-governed, independent multispecialty medical group practicing in Oregon and Southwest Washington. We are the physician arm of the Kaiser Permanente integrated medicine model. Our more than 1,500 physicians and clinicians are leaders – in our clinics and our communities.
So, when we made the commitment to improve our sustainability and carbon footprint and found no medical group who’d already paved the way, it made sense that we take on the role ourselves. As a first step toward doing better and increasing accountability, in 2016 Northwest Permanente became the first medical group in the world to become a certified B Corp. But that was just the beginning. When we partnered with fellow B Corp and sustainability experts, Native, we found the support we needed as we embarked on a more impactful environmental journey.
A journey toward increased sustainability
Since Northwest Permanente does not own the medical buildings, hospitals, or administrative buildings in which we operate – those are owned and operated by Kaiser Foundation and Hospitals – the impact we are able to exercise is focused on Scope 3 emissions. Native has helped us identify those which will make the greatest difference. With Native’s partnership, we made our first attempt at offsetting some of our corporate travel greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 and learned a lot from this effort. Native located a project in the Northwest to provide these offsets:
- NWP purchased verified emissions reductions from the Cedar Grove Composting Project in Everett Washington.
- Operationally, we learned that our collected emissions data were incomplete and the process of purchasing offsets allowed us to begin better tracking our employees’ travel
Our organization is intent on mitigating our environmental footprint and being a strong partner to the communities we serve, including being fully committed to minimizing our environmental impact on these communities. Our offset goal is first to purchase offsets from our own “economic backyard,” and then elsewhere in the United States. These are more costly offsets but keeping them relatively local reflects our values of giving back to our community.
NWP learned through the process in 2017 and in 2018, we created our first greenhouse gas emissions baseline for Scope 3 emissions.
In 2018 we purchased offsets totaling 30% (1,460 tonnes) of our scope 3 emissions footprint from two projects:
Working with Native in 2019, we created the first-ever Northwest Permanente Employee Commuter Survey and went “live” in the first quarter. Employees were encouraged to participate in the survey through several communication channels, including the Wellness Passport, which rewards employees for participation in several aspects of wellness, including environmental and social responsibility. This helped us more accurately calculate our carbon baseline.
For 2019 we purchased offsets totaling 50% (2,723 tonnes) of our Scope 3 emissions from two projects:
In 2020 76% (3,211 tonnes) of our Scope 3 emissions were offset utilizing three projects:
In 2021 Native customized their individual carbon emissions calculator specifically for NWP, which our employees have used to determine their own families’ personal GHG emissions generated by driving, vacationing, or daily home activities. We also worked together to redo our employee commuter survey to ensure that our baseline data was current. We found that COVID decreased both our commuting and our travel emissions, which allowed us to get closer to our carbon neutral goal more quickly. We are keenly aware, however, that as COVID restrictions lift we will likely see these numbers increase again.
For 2021, realizing reduced emissions overall, we can offset 90% (2,876 tonnes) of our Scope 3 emissions utilizing these two projects:
Native has also been a good partner to run some of our other environmental work by as well. In 2019 NWP published the first Climate Action Plan (CAP) for any major medical group in the United States. Our CAP recognizes both our obligation to mitigate our own emissions and our need to exist and lead in a carbon-challenged world.
Making health care healthier for the planet
We know that our health is less about what physicians do in clinics or hospitals and is shaped more by the conditions of our daily lives: how and where we live, work, play, and age. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the roofs (or absence of) over our heads, and the love and care of our family and friends all set the stage for our health. With its increasingly devastating impacts on these basic building blocks of health, climate change is the biggest public health crisis we’ve ever faced.
We know we can’t do this work alone. We may be experts in health care, but Native is an expert in renewable energy and carbon offsets. We will continue to rely on this partnership to reduce our carbon footprint as an organization, measure the impact we have as a medical group and business, and attain our goal of being carbon neutral by 2025, making health care healthier for the planet.