July 22, 2024

Health Minds

Nourishing Minds, Elevating Health

New Sustainable Healthcare Certification Will Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

3 min read

A 2022 study by the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health found that in a 3-year period, 81% of primary care clinic staff said their organization experienced some type of disruption due to extreme weather events later attributed to climate change.

Furthermore, a study from 2012 by The Commonwealth Fund projected that if all US hospitals reduced energy consumption and waste—and implemented efficiencies in operating room practices—these actions could lead to more than $5.4 billion in savings.

The data show that healthcare as an industry disproportionately contributes to climate change, with nearly 9% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions coming directly from healthcare, according to an article published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2021.

A study published in Health Affairs in 2020 also described the healthcare industry as an unusually high contributor of GHG emissions, stating that “the US healthcare system is responsible for about a quarter of all global healthcare greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the healthcare system of any other nation.”

If we, as surgeons, were to champion efforts at our organizations to correctly manage and control this issue, it has the potential to not only reduce our industry’s carbon footprint but also curb excess expenses and create financial savings.

The Joint Commission has heard from healthcare organizations across the country that need guidance on how to accelerate their sustainable practices and reduce GHG emissions.

Answering that call, a new Sustainable Healthcare Certification program, set to launch January 1, 2024, will provide a framework to help organizations begin, continue, or expand their decarbonization efforts, and to receive public recognition for their commitment and achievements in contributing to environmental sustainability.

The voluntary Sustainable Healthcare Certification program is available to Joint Commission-accredited and non-Joint Commission-accredited hospitals and critical access hospitals. To achieve the certification, healthcare centers must have the following:

  • Baseline emissions data for three GHG emission sources and an action plan to reduce them at the time of review
  • 24 months of data and the ability to demonstrate a reduction of those three GHG emission sources at the time of recertification

“We want to work with the momentum of healthcare organizations leading the way in sustainability excellence—inspiring and guiding others that want to prioritize greener practices,” said Jonathan B. Perlin, MD, PhD, MSHA, MACP, FACMI, president and chief executive officer of The Joint Commission Enterprise, in a news release announcing the new certification. “Healthcare is one of the largest sectors in the US and one dedicated to improving people’s health and well-being. Now is the time for The Joint Commission to take its place among other leading healthcare organizations to help accelerate environmental sustainability.”

The standards for the new program specifically outline measuring (and later reducing) anesthetic gas use, including volatile agents and nitrous oxide. Other benefits of the certification include:

  • Improved health outcomes for patients
  • Environmental impact reduction
  • Cost savings, such as qualifying for tax incentives for climate resiliency and renewable energy infrastructure projects
  • Enhanced reputation and community engagement
  • Regulatory compliance and risk mitigation

The Joint Commission has launched a Sustainable Healthcare Resource Center to provide tools, literature, videos, and more to help organizations get started on implementing sustainability efforts. 


The thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Dr. Jacobs and do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Commission or the American College of Surgeons.


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