Hospitals can heal America through what and how they buy

We can harness health care’s enormous purchasing power to heal the environmental and social conditions that are making people sick in the first place.

Health care sits at the epicenter of the COVID-19 and climate crises, caring for those who are stricken by the virus or, find themselves in the paths of wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, and drought. Low-income communities and communities of color are suffering from the worst impacts of air pollution, extreme weather events, and the pandemic. Those who live in communities that experience the worst air pollution are more susceptible to extreme respiratory symptoms related to COVID-19. The pandemic has shown us in stark terms that the inequities that plague our nation remain a collective wound that continues to define this country exacerbating social, economic, and environmental disparities.

By shifting from fossil fuel utilization to investing in renewable energy, health care would actively address the epidemic of respiratory and cardiovascular disease in our country, support job creation in the clean energy sector as well as reduce the nation’s climate emissions.

In September, to help improve the conditions for health in its communities, Kaiser Permanente became the first health care system in the United States to achieve carbon-neutral status, eliminating Kaiser Permanente’s 800,000-ton annual carbon footprint, the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road. Kaiser Permanente is currently ranked No. 6 in the United States for companies with the most solar energy investment, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Solar panels on top of parking structures, Kaiser Permanente La Mesa (Ted Eytan/Flickr)
Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill. is adjacent to a geothermal lake that heats and cools the facility, saving on energy costs. (Advocate Aurora Health)
Our new guide for sustainable procurement is the first of its kind. Featuring stories and insights from 25 health care organizations around the world, the guide provides step-by-step guidance and tools for hospitals to serve as a roadmap for both new and existing programs.

As community anchors, U.S. hospitals can use their purchasing power to improve the health of their communities. They can help heal systemic racism in America by contracting with more local and minority-owned businesses for sustainable and environmentally preferable products, both reducing their reliance on suppliers overseas while increasing and stimulating job creation.

Health systems have a moral and mission-related responsibility to heal themselves and the communities they serve. Representing almost 20% of the nation’s overall economy it is the only sector that is underpinned by an ethical framework. By incorporating this framework into current procurement practices we can harness health care’s enormous purchasing power to heal the environmental and social conditions that are making people sick in the first place.

Mary Beth Lang, Kaiser Permanente, Chief Procurement and Supply Chain Officer
Mary J. Larsen, Advocate Aurora Health Director, Environmental Affairs & Sustainability
Gary Cohen, Health Care Without Harm Founder

Health Care Without Harm seeks to transform health care worldwide so the sector reduces its environmental footprint and becomes a leader in the global movement.