Energy conservation experts urge advocacy, action for ministry members

October 15, 2015

BY KATHLEEN NELSON

The health care industry has an obligation to search both inside and out for ways to reduce the effects of climate change, according to participants in a Sept. 29 CHA webinar, "Environmental Stewardship: Advocacy and Action."

Rachelle Reyes Wenger, director of public policy and community advocacy for Dignity Health, urged participants to advocate on the state, national and international levels for initiatives to counteract climate change. Clark A. Reed, national program manager for the ENERGY STAR commercial buildings program at the Environmental Protection Agency, encouraged all health care facilities to seek that program's certification.

Citing Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si … On Care for Our Common Home," Wenger noted health care providers can give voice to the connection between people and planet.

"We daily witness in the hospitals and the communities we serve the climate's impact on health," Wenger said.

Among the health impacts of climate change brought on by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions that Wenger listed in her presentation are increases in bacterial diarrhea, behavioral health problems, cardiovascular, respiratory and vector-borne diseases. She added that people living in developing countries, isolation and poverty bear the brunt of the disease burden. "Climate change threatens to undermine the last half-century of gains and development in global health," she said.

Wegner said Dignity, based in San Francisco, joined the successful effort to pass a bill in California that will increase the state's renewable energy mix to 50 percent and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings, calling the law "a tremendous victory."

To protect public health, she also called on health care providers to support the Clean Power Plan, part of the Climate Action Plan of President Barack Obama. The Clean Power Plan sets standards that by 2030 will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 32 percent from 2005 levels. The White House projects that the reductions will prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 non-fatal heart attacks and 90,000 asthma attacks in children.

Wenger also urged participants to advocate passage of a bill in Congress that would appropriate $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, a project of the United Nations to help developing countries adopt practices to counter climate change.

Clark invited health care facilities managers to use ENERGY STAR's free online Portfolio Manager tool to measure and track greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water consumption as part of a plan to reduce energy use and costs. "You don't have to define an energy efficiency program," Clark said. "We give you a common language to communicate to a wide variety of audiences. … ENERGY STAR is the Rosetta stone."

The common language comes from the breadth of the ENERGY STAR program, in which 4.8 billion products, 1.5 million homes and 26,000 commercial buildings have earned certification.

If a hospital decides to use Portfolio Manager, the first step is establishing an ENERGY STAR score by using the spreadsheets at energystar.gov/benchmark. Clark noted that 85 percent of U.S. hospitals had generated an ENERGY STAR score using Portfolio Manager, higher than any other business sector. He also said that 220 hospitals had been ENERGY STAR certified by registering a score of 75 or better on a scale of 100 and that 47 of those were hospitals with Catholic affiliation.

"We offer a ready-made network of health care providers who already have taken that journey," he said, which can help others in the industry avoid pitfalls and costly mistakes. Portfolio Manager also includes a tool that searches certified buildings by facilities type, hospital being one of the options, which gives access to reports on how each facility improved its score.

No matter where a health care facility starts, Clark encouraged setting stretch goals for saving energy because of the positive return on such investments. A certified building uses an average of 35 percent less energy and causes 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

"It may take you four years to be certified or it may take you less," he said. "The important thing is to chip away at it and make progress."

 

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