AHRQ releases primer targeting healthcare’s carbon footprint

Sept. 22, 2022

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), today released a primer to help healthcare organizations reduce their carbon footprint and protect communities from climate threats.

In alignment with HHS goals, Reducing Healthcare Carbon Emissions: A Primer on Measures and Actions to Mitigate Climate Change features a prioritized set of measures and potential interventions to reduce healthcare’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The climate crisis is the most significant public health challenge of the 21st century. Healthcare is both a significant contributor to climate change and responsible for managing the adverse impact of climate change on health.

“Climate change is a major threat to human health with acute impacts for people who have been marginalized across the United States and around the world,” said AHRQ Director Robert Otto Valdez, Ph.D., M.H.S.A. “Extreme weather events, declining air quality, and growing food and water insecurity now threaten healthcare operations and present challenges in care continuity, patient safety and quality, and cost containment. This primer can help healthcare stakeholders respond to this crisis through their example and preparedness.”

AHRQ contracted with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) to develop the primer, working with experts in healthcare sustainability, clinical practice, and health system leadership to collect examples of workable and effective interventions toward decarbonization. The primer describes six domains contributing to GHG emissions in healthcare: building energy, transportation, anesthetic gas, pharmaceuticals & chemicals, medical devices & supplies, and food. Building on this framework, the primer identifies core (fundamental) and elective measures to track progress in and critical strategies for reducing GHG in each domain. The primer also features vignettes of what health systems have done to reduce GHG and includes a collection of resources and tools to support implementation.

The primer is being released to coincide with the Accelerating Healthcare Sector Action on Climate Change and Health Equity webinar series sponsored by HHS’ Office of Climate Change and Health Equity that explores government supports available to assist healthcare stakeholders in this vital work. The series is an outgrowth of the Administration’s and HHS’ Health Care Sector Climate Pledge, which invites organizations to commit to lowering their GHG emissions and building more climate-resilient infrastructure. Webinar topics include financing resources to support facility investments in sustainable infrastructure development and renewables and tools to support emergency preparedness and response.

“The recommendations and examples in the primer are a starting point for healthcare organizations to achieve the emission-reduction goals outlined in the initiative,” added Dr. Valdez. “Healthcare organizations must develop approaches to care that meet the climate health needs of disproportionately affected communities and rapidly reduce their contributions to environmental emissions.”

AHRQ release