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Kaiser Permanente: Climate Change Threatens Health Mission

Bill DiBenedetto | Tuesday June 19th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Take that climate change deniers! When a major health care provider on the order of Kaiser Permanente publicly recognizes that climate change threatens its basic mission — improving health — shouldn’t that go a long way to depoliticizing the topic and shutting the diehards up?

One would think so, but in the supper-charged climate of an election year and with the Supreme Court about to strike down all or major parts of the Affordable Health Care Act, what Kaiser’s Environmental Stewardship Officer Kathy Gerwig told the Harvard Business Review’s Andrew Winston could get lost in all the irrelevant noise and illogic.

And that will be unfortunate because KP is a big player in its industry — an industry that accounts for 16 percent of U.S. GDP and 8 percent of national GHG emissions. KP’s revenues total about $44 billion and it runs hospitals, clinics and health plans, serving more than nine million members in nine states and Washington, D.C.

Winston, who writes for HBR and who is the co-author of Green to Gold and the author of Green Recovery, advises companies on environmental strategy.

In the blog piece, he writes that KP is making increasing commitments to renewable energy to meet a commitment to reduce its GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2020. “KP is buying both carbon offsets and significant onsite energy — 11 megawatts of solar and 4 megawatts of fuel cell generation,” he says.

Winston was surprised by KP’s commitment to renewables rather than say, focusing on supply chain issues, efficiency and green building. So he asked Gerwig about that; instead of the typical “right thing to do” type of answer he received “one of the most straightforward statements about the role of climate change in public health and in corporate strategy.”

Gerwig told him, “There’s credible evidence of significant climate change that will impact our ability to provide quality health care.”

She identified four categories of the health effects of climate change:

- Severe weather: because things like hurricanes, floods, wildfires and heat waves injure and kill people.

- Respiratory diseases: because air quality has deep and long-term effects on health.

- Infectious diseases: because as the planet warms, bugs like mosquitos can survive and thrive further north, spreading diseases to new areas. Ready for outbreaks of malaria, yellow fever and dengue in the southern U.S. and Mexico? According to the UN those areas will face those diseases by 2050.

- The “what we don’t know” factor: because while the science is clear that climate change is a serious problem, how it ultimately will all play out is an unknown. “What we know so far about the repercussions of climate change isn’t good,” Gerwig says, “such as water shortages and increased wars over resources, and all the health issues that go along with those.”

As Winston says, “Integrating sustainability and climate change into the health care mission of the organization is the real story here, and it’s one that companies should emulate quickly.”

And that should apply to the health care approach of any organization, instead of wasting time debating whether climate change is real — got that Mitt? — because time is running out and it’s time to move on.

[Image: Untitled by catbagan via Flickr]


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  1. June 19, 2012 at 21:28 pm PDT | Lwagnerseq writes:

    Those hyping the hoax of man-made-global warming have been duped. When a major health care provider can’t get it right I begin to worry that my monthly contributions to Kaiser will be wasted on UN projects that are blowing in the wind. When there is no direct correlation between CO2 increase and 16 years of flat global temperatures I sense that certain Kaiser folks either cannot read graphs or they don’t want to read the graphs because it might upset their political agenda. This is a very unsettling article about Kaiser. From a 43 year Kaiser member.

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