Advocate Aurora Health has announced plans to power its health care operations with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030, the first health system in Illinois to set such a target.
In announcing the plan, Advocate Aurora Health Chief Operating Officer Bill Santulli said: “This commitment builds upon our strong track record of leadership in sustainability and environmental stewardship.”
Plan to implemented over 10 years
To meet this target, Advocate Aurora Health, which has more than 500 out-patient sites and 27 hospitals, said that, over the next 10 years, construction and renovation projects will be evaluated for the addition of on-site renewables and implemented when financially feasible.
Advocate Aurora, which is co-headquartered in Milwaukee and Illinois, announced that it was likely to use a combination of on-site, off-site, and purchased renewable electricity to meet its goal, in line with other health system approaches to renewable energy. “These efforts will be accompanied by a continued focus on energy efficiency, which lowers overall energy demand by its facilities.”
While Advocate Aurora Health is the first health system in Illinois to publicly announce such a goal, it follows other institutions and organizations in Wisconsin and across the U.S., who have set such targets in an effort to reduce health care’s environmental and climate impacts.
Mary Larsen, Director of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, said honoring the pledge to power its healthcare operations with 100 percent renewable energy was another way in which Advocate Aurora will support the health and wellness of its patients and the communities in which it works.
“As the 10th largest not-for-profit integrated health system in the country, it’s imperative that we help lead the way toward a healthy environment that can support healthy people. Transitioning to clean energy reduces air pollution that is responsible for many chronic health conditions and mitigates the health impacts of climate change,” she said.
Following the progressive company’s decision to lift the minimum wage to all employees, as we previously covered, Advocate Aurora is hopeful that its move towards clean energy and pollution reduction will inspire other healthcare systems and businesses to follow suite, with Larsen telling the Milwaukee Business Journal that: “It’s a fabulous opportunity. We hope it inspires other health care systems and industries to join us.”
Reducing carbon dioxide emissions
One of the objectives of using renewable energy is to reduce air pollution, which aggravates asthma, a major health issue across the Midwest, Advocate Aurora explained. “In addition to dedicating resources to the prevention, detection and treatment of asthma through traditional health care operations, Advocate Aurora Health physicians view this transition to clean energy as another tactic in the fight against asthma – both for patients in Wisconsin and Illinois and for wider society,” the health system said.
If Advocate Aurora Health achieves its goal, it will reduce its annual carbon dioxide emissions by 392,657 metric tons, which is equal to removing more than 84,000 passenger cars from the road each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, the health system said in a statement.
The health care system is a member of the Health Care Climate Council and is among 180 participants – representing the interests of more than 17,000 hospitals and health centers in 26 countries – that have accepted the Health Care Climate Challenge, which mobilizes health care institutions to protect public health from climate change.
A number of health care institutions are increasingly pledging to use renewable energy in an effort to reduce their carbon footprints. In 2014, Gunderson Health System became the first health system in the country to become energy independent by offsetting 100 percent of its energy use with locally produced renewable energy, the Daily Reporter said.
Last year, Kaiser Permanente announced plans to be carbon neutral in 2020 as part of a larger environmental initiative.
A study by the Commonwealth Fund revealed that in 2011 the U.S. health care sector emitted 655 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, accounting for 10 percent of the carbon dioxide that was generated in the U.S. that year.
The report points out that if carbon dioxide emissions are a barometer of all air pollution, “then pollutants associated with the health care sector could be implicated in 10 percent (20,000) of the nearly 200,000 premature deaths attributable to air pollution annually in the United States.”
The Commonwealth Fund said that in the absence of coordinated national governmental action to reduce fossil fuel emissions, greater responsibility falls on private and non-governmental sectors to take the lead.