According to Kaiser Permanente, health care activities as a whole contribute eight percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions produced in the United States. That’s a surprisingly large number, and Kaiser, one of the nation’s largest health care plans, is looking to drop that high number by introducing new initiatives that will shave 30% off their CO2 output by 2020. When such a large and energy-intensive group — Kaiser owns millions of square feet of property — wants to make such large cuts, perhaps an entire industry can change.

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This author was born in the original Kaiser hospital in Oakland in 1971 in a building that must have been a energy hog. When he popped his head out into the world, almost no one had a clue as to the real environmental consequences of buildings, not to mention the growth of the health care industry. Forty years later, buildings are a core concern, and when the nation’s largest HMO says they are going to make a major change, it should get noticed by the industry. This investment pays off when we think of the next generation born in low impact hospitals who will inherit our environmental legacy.

Kaiser will use the baseline of 2008 when they released 819,000 tons of CO2 in the air. The company pledges to cut that number by 264,000 metric in eight years. This is actually a bigger step than it first appears, as by 2010 they released 837,000 tons of CO2. So on to the nuts and bolts:

The real money saver is in energy efficiency, so Kaiser plans on a complete lighting overhaul and application of window film to reduce heat gain. The $2.4 million dollar investment saves $1 million a years, so that’s a no brainer.  They will also have to replace aging HVAC equipment and refrigeration, add light sensors, and introduce new ways to manage energy use across the board. New facilities will be designed to be significantly more efficient.

Their news release focuses on renewable and cleaner energy to replace coal power. One promising technology is the installation of fuel cells onsite which provides cleaner electricity, thanks to using natural gas and reduced line loss. The waste heat can be used for heating water and the buildings, thus doubling the efficiency. Onsite solar, which now stands at 11MW, and the purchasing of green RECs will help cull the environmental impacts of energy. Perhaps what Kaiser famously did to overhaul health care, they can replicate in overhauling health care’s environmental impact.

+ Kaiser Permanente

Photos © Recurrent Energy