How Penn Medicine is going green for good health

The University of Pennsylvania Health System prioritizes sustainability in its day-to-day practices, while envisioning novel approaches to greening efforts.

An exterior view of the Perelman School of Medicine. The Smilow Research Center is at right.

The health care sector has an outsized impact on the Earth’s changing climate, responsible for an estimated 8.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. At the same time, the mission of health care—to improve an individual’s health—sits at odds with its negative contributions to the environment and public health.

But does providing health care to patients have to contribute to worsening the health of other people and the planet?

Increasingly, health care professionals and organizations are saying no. A green health care system is attainable, and a three-way win: a win for a patient’s health, a win for the health of the planet and public health, and a win in the form of cost savings.

For example, an initiative from Penn Medicine anesthesiologists to reduce the flow rate of anesthesia gases for patients—while still delivering safe care—slashed greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 30 metric tons of carbon in the space of only three months at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania last year.

From large-scale efforts, like a commitment to sustainable building design and a massive renewable power purchase agreement in collaboration with the University, to more localized initiatives in hospital operating rooms and offices, the changes are meant to move toward the same goal, articulated in the organization’s recent strategic plan: making Penn Medicine the most environmentally friendly health care organization in the nation.

“Health care is dedicated to healing, but the industry has played a role in the changing climate,” says Kevin B. Mahoney, chief executive officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS). “It’s our responsibility now to balance health care with impact. We can do this by fostering engagement around climate-related initiatives, improving sustainability within our own health systems and beyond, and setting an example for the field. It’s the right thing to do for our patients, the community, and the generations to come.”

Penn Medicine, which encompasses UPHS and the Perelman School of Medicine, currently has a climate footprint that rivals the rest of the University combined. The health system has committed to the University’s Climate and Sustainability Action Plan, which includes adopting the “audacious yet achievable” goal of reaching 100% carbon neutrality by 2042, says Greg Evans, UPHS corporate director of sustainability.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.