Healthcare systems worldwide pledge climate action

Commit to reducing carbon footprint through 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge

16 April 2015  Nine leading healthcare institutions from across the globe are pledging to take meaningful action on climate change, kicking off a worldwide campaign to mobilise hospitals and health systems to address one of humanity’s most pressing problems.

Their commitment signals the launch of the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge, an international initiative from Health Care Without Harm’s Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network.  The 2020 Challenge invites healthcare systems and hospitals to reduce their carbon footprint and protect public health from climate change in the run-up to a worldwide meeting of heads of state at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change this December in Paris.

The 2020 Challenge also marks the first international effort ever to track emissions and take measurable actions to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint. 

"At a time when climate change is posing one of the greatest threats to public health, hospitals and health systems are stepping up to help the world kick its addiction to fossil fuels," said Josh Karliner, Global Projects Director for Health Care Without Harm, and coordinator of its Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network. “This is a leadership moment for healthcare."

The 2020 Challenge participants, health systems from Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States, have committed to substantially reduce their own carbon footprint, prepare to withstand extreme weather events, and to promote public policies to reduce greenhouse emissions. Together they represent the interests of more than three hundred hospitals. Hundreds more from around the world are expected to join the Challenge in coming months.

Initial participants in the 2020 Challenge include Counties Manukau Health (New Zealand), Gundersen Health System (USA), Hospital Albert Einstein and Hospital Sirio Libanes (Brazil), Kaiser Permanente (USA), NHS Sustainable Development Unit (England), Virginia Mason Health System (USA), Western Cape Government Health (South Africa), and Yonsei University Health System (South Korea). 

Several of the initial participants, such as Kaiser Permanente, Yonsei University Health and the NHS have already committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent or more by the year 2020. All have also pledged to encourage public policy, economic development, and investment strategies that move their societies away from fossil fuel dependency and toward healthy energy alternatives.

The estimated carbon footprint of Europe’s healthcare sector is similar to the emissions of international aviation and maritime transport activities of the EU27 Member States; its 15,000 hospitals generate approximately 250 million tonnes of CO2 per annum. [1]

"With an aging population and increase in non communicable diseases in Europe, the number of patients will increase and exert pressure on our health systems. Alternatively, if healthcare can lead by example and reduce its environmental footprint by switching to renewables, the savings in energy efficiency and changing behaviour costs could be used to treat patients instead. That’s a win-win for patients, health systems and the environment," said Anja Leetz, Executive Director of Health Care Without Harm Europe. "Leading hospitals are showing the way forward. We all can and need to move towards low carbon healthcare."

The 2020 Challenge is now open for hospitals and health systems from around the world to join. To participate, health systems endorse a Leadership Pledge (, agree to set carbon reduction targets and share data on their carbon emissions. Participants also agree to promote climate resiliency in their health systems, and work on a series of leadership activities. Global Green and Healthy Hospitals is organizing a series of events around the world to build momentum for the Challenge in the lead-up to the Paris Conference.

Follow the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge on Twitter (Hashtag #2020Challenge).

About the launch of the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge, participating health systems had this to say:

"Kaiser Permanente is making this pledge because climate change isn’t a distant threat. The health impacts of a changing climate can be felt today in the form of increasing rates of asthma, spread of infectious diseases, heat stress, and injuries from severe weather events. By addressing climate change for the future, we are improving the health of communities today.” 

Kathy Gerwig, Vice President and Environmental Stewardship Officer, Kaiser Permanente, USA

“We recognize that not only does climate change present a huge challenge for the health and care sector in England but also a great opportunity to change the way we work - to improve the health of people and communities, save money and help the environment. In England we have shown our commitment to this challenge by producing a strategy for sustainable development for the future with a clear vision and goals to which organizations across health and care are working.”

Sonia Roschnik, Head of the Sustainable Development Unit, Representing the health and care system in England

"This challenge will expand actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase our board of directors’ engagement in climate change. The 2020 Challenge will also contribute to building up our vision of sustainability in healthcare.”

Dr. Gonzalo Vecina Neto, Corporate Superintendent, Sirio Libanes Hospital, Brazil

"Yonsei University Health System has been implementing a greening program since 2010, not only for patient care quality but for protecting public from damages caused by climate change which intensifies natural disasters and diseases on our globe. We will continue our efforts to be a role model in close relationship with other hospitals in Korea as well as the Global Green and Healthy Network."

Dr. DongChun Shin, Yonsei University Health System, South Korea

"Climate change is a clear threat to human health. The 2020 Challenge provides healthcare with a path forward to act on climate and benefit quality of life everywhere.  Virginia Mason, which is committed to achieving new heights in environmental stewardship,  is honored to be an inaugural signatory of the Challenge and I encourage our healthcare colleagues around the world to join us in this important work."

Gary Kaplan, MD, Chairman and CEO, Virginia Mason Health System, USA

“Counties Manukau Health recognises the global imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that this will benefit the health of people locally and around the world. We’re committed to reducing our carbon footprint as part of our mission to promote a healthier environment for our patients, staff and community. We’re excited to be part of this global effort – and proud to say we’re well on our way to achieving our target of 20% by 2017.”

Debbie Wilson, Environmental Sustainability Manager, Counties Manukau District Health Board, New Zealand

“It is our mission to improve the health of the communities we serve, which includes taking action to improve and protect our environment, reduce our waste and lower our costs,” says Jeff Thompson, MD, CEO of La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Gundersen Health System. “Not every healthcare organization makes this a priority, but Gundersen – through achievement of energy independence, investment in sustainability programs and support of Health Care Without Harm initiatives – is showing it is possible to provide exceptional patient care and exceptional care for the environment.”

Dr. Jeff Thompson, MD, CEO of La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Gundersen Health System, USA

"Health facilities are a large consumers of energy and generate waste. It is important that we try to contain our environmental footprint as much as possible. To this end we have accommodated principles of Green Design in our recent building projects. Examples of these are: the use of natural light and ventilation where possible, reduction in air conditioning, inclusion of green spaces in design, change in building material to favour environmentally-friendly choices. The Western Cape Government Health will continue to uphold these Green Design principles in our future building projects to ensure that we maintain our Provincial commitment to environment-friendly community development.”

Western Cape Government Health, South Africa


Rosalind Simpson

Communication and Press Officer, Health Care Without Harm Europe


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