Leading Sustainability Efforts in Health Care


Bokie Muigai

Publish date

March 21, 2023


In the U.S. alone, the health care industry accounts for between 8 and 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, generating approximately 25% of global health sector emissions. Yet, the health care profession which takes an oath to do no harm is substantially contributing to climate change, inadvertently undermining its mission to improve health.

Our department is committed to addressing the adverse impacts of climate change on human health by markedly reducing emissions through principals and tools of sustainability science.

“Given that our faculty are amongst the nation’s leaders in investigating the adverse impacts of environmental pollution on health, it makes perfect sense for us to extend our work to lead on research that sheds light on the best ways to reduce that footprint and protect health,” affirmed Howard Hu, MD, MPH, ScD, Flora L. Thornton Chair and Professor.

As a result, Howard Hu, MD, MPH, ScD, and Rob McConnell, MD, were appointed to the USC President’s Sustainable Group. Their contributions include organizing colleagues from across disciplines, including engineering and architecture, to address the challenges of overcoming the industry’s detrimental impact through a multidisciplinary approach.

Their recommendations led to Keck Medicine joining a larger alliance, Practice Greenhealth — a network of hospitals and medical centers pursuing sustainable health care. McConnell also initiated a research project to use Practice Greenhealth’s large database of sustainability metrics to identify best practices for its members. The association “collects information on health care facilities’ carbon footprint and provides best practices to reduce the footprint” indicated McConnell.

These activities initiated a visit from renowned physician Victor Dzau, MD, President of the National Academy of Medicine, in November 2022. During the Dean’s Transformative Lecture Series and Grand Rounds in Population and Public Health, he commended USC’s efforts to implement initiatives and set targets that address unsustainable practices, stating “Your goals and your visions for reaching decarbonization net zero through education, research, practice and now the health system, are one of a kind.”

Sustainability in health care remains a great challenge. This ambition will not gain traction until the larger health care community acknowledges this issue as a major problem and implements critical steps towards emission reduction.

“We intend to use Keck Medicine’s evolution toward a sustainable health care enterprise as a sort of laboratory,” shares Hu. “We’ll work with our colleagues to create innovative solutions to accelerate the whole movement toward sustainability.”

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