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AHRQ Releases Primer On Climate Change Mitigation in Health Care

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) published a primer providing health care organizations with guidance on how to reduce their carbon footprint and protect communities from climate threats.

Reducing Healthcare Carbon Emissions: A Primer on Measures and Actions to Mitigate Climate Change details the Biden-Harris administration’s national goal of reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and to net zero by 2050.

AHRQ noted four types of structural enablers necessary to support decarbonization initiatives:

  • establishing a management system;
  • setting targets and timelines;
  • building workforce capability; and
  • managing carbon accounting and finance.

The primer states that, in addition to establishing structural enablers, organizations should track emissions across the institution using high-priority measures, which AHRQ organized into two tiers: core measures and elective measures. Core measures are foundational to assessing progress toward decarbonization goals, while elective measures are recommended for deeper engagement and activity in sustainability efforts.

The report also offers prioritized strategies for health care organizations to monitor progress toward and guide strategic management of their decarbonization goals, which focus on transportation, anesthetic gas, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, medical devices and supplies, food, and building energy.

AHRQ suggests health care organizations use the Greenhouse Gas Protocol framework, a comprehensive, globally recognized standard for quantifying and reporting on emissions. The framework aims to track and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as align with global standards.

The agency highlighted association member UCSF Health, in San Francisco, for its efforts to reduce emissions. The health system reduced the climate impact of the food served by 12.5 percent between 2017 and 2020, accrediting a reduction of beef procurement by 28 percent, an increase in legumes by 13 percent, and an increase of almost 70 percent in plant-based milk during this time period.

Additionally, AHRQ states that three critical shifts must occur to accelerate systemwide decarbonization: a shift from cost-based to value-based accounting, a shift from a linear to a circular health care economy, and a shift from curative to preventive models of care.

The Office of Climate Change and Health Equity featured the primer on Sept. 22 as part of its Accelerating Healthcare Sector Action on Climate Change and Health Equity webinar series, which will further discuss decarbonization tools and resources throughout the remainder of the year.

Contact Senior Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at eomalley@essentialhospitals.org or 202.585.0127 with questions.

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About the Author

Andrea Lugo is a communications associate at America's Essential Hospitals.

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