Healthcare is a topic that’s been on our minds a lot this past year. Spurred by the pandemic, we’ve begun more and more to recognize the intersection between healthcare and the other facets of our lives.

The intersection between healthcare and sustainability is of particular interest to me, as the executive director of environmental stewardship with Providence.

Providence is a medical group containing over 50 hospitals and 1000 clinics throughout seven western states (including Missoula’s own St. Patrick Hospital). Providence’s vision of “Health for a Better World” inspires us to help ensure a healthy planet. To this end, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, Providence committed to become carbon negative by 2030. In Montana, we have been addressing environmental stewardship in health care for many years, and we are now scaling up across our entire organization.

What does it mean to become carbon negative? Greenhouse gases (GHGs) – the chemicals that drive global warming and subsequent climate change come from many sources. For the sake of simplicity, these gases are converted to carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). When we use the shorthand of carbon, we are referring to all GHGs.

Becoming carbon neutral means that an organization removes an equivalent amount of CO2e as they emit into the atmosphere in a year. Becoming carbon negative means going beyond that to remove more than they have emitted, through both direct and indirect emissions.

Providence is using the international Greenhouse Gas Protocol to track and report GHG emissions across three scopes. Scope 1 emissions are from on-site combustion of fossil fuels such as natural gas, diesel, and gasoline for owned vehicles. Scope 2 emissions are from purchased energy combusted elsewhere, like a power plant. Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions from many sources including purchased goods and services, capital goods, waste, business travel, employee commuting, investments, and more.

Providence expects to reduce emissions significantly by 2030, though some will remain. For example, we won’t be able to eliminate natural gas by 2030, nor do we expect a replacement for jet fuel by then. For these and other remaining emissions, we will purchase carbon offsets.

How will we meet this enormous commitment? We are organizing our approach using a framework that motivates caregivers, while addressing the biggest sources of our carbon pollution - the WE ACT framework.

Beth Schenk
Beth Schenk

W is for waste. Healthcare creates enormous amounts of waste, in multiple streams. We aim to keep at least 50% of waste out of landfill or incineration by 2030, focusing on source reduction, proper segregation, more recycling and composting, donation and reuse. We are studying the impacts of reusable items, asking clinicians to identify materials and supplies that are not needed, and asking vendors to use less packaging, as examples.

E is for energy and water. Providence has been conserving energy and water for decades. We have built a complete database for utility usage and cost in our buildings - more than 37 million square feet. We can easily compare sites and drive our practices to reach three goals – efficiency, lower cost, and less carbon pollution.

A is for agriculture and food, the production, preparation, distribution, storage, and disposal of which contribute significantly to climate change. Across the system we are working to reduce waste from both food and dishware, providing more local and sustainable foods, and purchasing foods with lower carbon intensity.

C is for chemicals. Many chemicals are potent GHGs. We have significantly reduced the GHG impacts of anesthetic agents, and nitrous oxide, while exploring opportunities with refrigerants and other gases. Additionally, we address chemicals for staff, patient, and public safety. We are working to reduce the use of potentially harmful chemicals and to increase protection and education about them.

T is for transportation. One silver lining of the pandemic is that we are finding efficient, workable tools for online meetings and communications. This saves money, reduces carbon pollution, and gives caregivers valuable time otherwise spent at airports and hotels. Employee commuting is also part of our footprint. We are working to collect data about commuter behavior and provide support for less polluting commuting.

In addition to the WE ACT elements we are addressing our supply chain. This is enormously complex for an organization of our size. We are working with key vendors to understand their operations and GHG emissions. We are rolling out a system-wide policy that asks caregivers to consider the environmental impacts of procurement decisions. We are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our purchasing decisions, alongside environmental considerations.

We are concerned about environmental justice. We serve communities from Texas to Alaska, and BIPOC communities, people living with poverty or homelessness, and other groups with vulnerabilities are hardest hit by pollution and climate change. We are taking a system-wide approach to understand this, and to develop strategies for addressing them in our partnerships in the communities we serve.

Our vision of health for a better world, rooted in our commitment to justice, is what inspires and sustains this work. We hope you will follow our challenges and successes as we strive towards this bold and exciting goal.

Beth Schenk is the Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship at Providence Medical Group. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Now through March 21. Apply for a garden plot from Garden City Harvest! Garden City Harvest is taking new gardener applications! Each of the community gardens provides participants with a garden plot, tools, water, straw, compost, and educational resources to help them grow their own food. Apply by March 21 for the best chance of receiving a plot this spring! More info HERE or call 406-523-3663.

Now through April. Montana Legislature is in session. Get the awesome “How to be Involved Guide” from Montana Free Press. To follow efforts for clean energy, climate, conservation and sustainability, consider connecting with (and getting the low down and action alerts from):

· Montana Renewable Energy Association

· Montana Environmental Information Center

· Montana Conservation Voters

· Northern Plains Resource Council

Through April. Missoula Valley Winter Market. Located in the Southgate Mall (in former Lucky’s Market). Market hours: Saturdays, 9am-2pm through April 17.

Through April 22. Thursdays, 7pm. Seeking Sustainability Lecture Series. In 2020, this lecture series celebrated 50 years of Earth Day by focusing on Missoula’s sustainability efforts & featuring 60 speakers. In 2021 many of those speakers will return to give updates on how their programs have adapted to the crises we face. Check out this year’s schedule HERE. 2020 recordings are available HERE.

February 8 – March 29. Mondays 6 – 7:30 pm. My Grandmother’s Hands Practice Group. This invitation is for white identifying folks in Missoula or the surrounding areas to join an 8-week virtual community practice group to examine white-body supremacy and create a new type of lasting relationship rooted in racial justice and accountability. More info HERE.

February 13 - June 19 (dates added periodically). Virtual Fixit Clinics. Want to try fixing from home? Present your broken item to a global team of expert community repairers and get suggestions for things to try. After all items are presented, participants move to Zoom breakout rooms to implement the suggestions and, hopefully, fix the items.

March 4, 4-5:30pm. How to Talk to Kids about Climate Change. How can we maintain hope and make a difference in the face of overwhelming evidence of the climate crisis? And, how do we even begin to talk with our kids about it? Help is at hand. Join Families for a Livable Climate, Moms Clean Air Force Montana, and Mountain Mamas for a discussion with Harriet Shugarman, aka “Climate Mama”, and author of How to Talk to Your Kids About Climate Change.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.