Kaiser Aims to Cut GHG Emissions 30% by 2020

Kaiser Aims to Cut GHG Emissions 30% by 2020

Kaiser Permanente, which has pledged to green its facilities, energy and supply chain, set a goal today of reducing its carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2020.

The health care giant announced its plan, a target set against 2008 levels, this morning.

"It is an ambitious goal, but we felt we needed to do something significant," Ramé Hemstreet, Kaiser's recently appointed vice president and chief energy officer, told me yesterday. "It will be quite a feat, but I think we can get there."

The hurdle marks the first systemwide goal regarding greenhouse gas emissions for the health care provider, which began measuring and reporting on its GHG emissions (PDF) in California in 2005.

According to Kaiser, health care is responsible for about 8 percent of the total GHG emissions in the United States. By the organization's calculations, its operations registered about 819,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions during 2008. The figure had grown to 837,000 metric tons by 2010.

Achieving the 30 percent reduction goal would bring GHG emissions down by about 264,000 metric tons, Kaiser said.

Climate change and the factors that contribute to it, such as greenhouse gas emissions, are "important for the organization because of our focus on prevention of diseases and illnesses," Hemstreet said. "We look at climate change as a health care issue."

Kaiser intends to cut its emissions by:

  • Purchasing green power via renewable energy credits. The organization's purchase of wind power via RECs last year helped avoid 12,700 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
  • Retrofitting existing facilities for energy efficiency and constructing new buildings to greener standards. Efforts thus far include installing 185 acres of reflective roofing on medical centers, reducing energy load by about 10 percent; spending $2.4 million to upgrade lights and install window film, moves that are expected to cut $1 million in energy costs annually.
  • Installing solar power and other clean energy systems at Kaiser facilities when feasible. KP launched a solar initiative that has brought 11 megawatts of generation capacity to 11 sites through power purchase agreements since 2011. It also has brought 4 MW of fuel cell generation to four sites in California; in all, seven sites in the state are to deploy the technology by the end of this year.

KP also is working to reduce emissions through smarter use of video conferencing to reduce travel and rightsizing delivery fleets, and has spurred industry efforts to make medical supply chains greener, cleaner and more responsible. The health care organization also has made strides to move toward paperless recordkeeping and more energy efficient IT.

The health care provider isn't the only one to aggressively pursue more sustainable operations.

Dignity Health, previously branded as Catholic Healthcare West, set green goals of reducing GHG by 40 percent, reducing energy use by 20 percent and sourcing 35 percent of power to green energy, all by 2020. The system of more than 40 hospitals and care centers in California, Arizona and Nevada set targets last April in conjunction with Earth Day.

Kaiser's efforts apply to a system that includes 37 hospitals and more than 610 medical offices in nine states and the District of Columbia serving 8.9 million members. The organization's real estate portfolio covers 53.6 million square feet of property and 1,015 buildings.

Hemstreet, who comes to Kaiser after 30 years as a naval officer specializing in engineering, facilities operation and infrastructure, is no stranger to vast organizations that draw heavily on resources to fulfill their mission.

"Health care is a very energy intensive business," Hemstreet said."The key (to reducing that intensity) goes back to prevention. Kaiser Permanente's goal is keeping its members healthy."

By doing that, the footprint of health care shrinks as do costs to the people being treated and the facilities serving them, he said.

To further address environmental impacts, "one thing we can do is learn from other industries," Hemstreet said, pointing to the use of energy performance contracts by government agencies, municipalities and other institutions, like schools and colleges, to upgrade sites for efficiency.

Energy performance contracts enable the work to be financed with little or no upfront costs because the improvements are paid for by cost savings realized from the projects. President Obama recently called for government agencies to take greater advantage of such mechanisms.

"Other industries are ahead of us on (such) things and we should look outside ourselves for lessons," Hemstreet said.

Photos courtesy of Kaiser.