Q&A: At the intersection of healthcare and climate change


Addressing climate change has become a top priority in healthcare, especially given the industry’s reliance on environmentally damaging practices and its major contributions to carbon emissions. Last year, Massachusetts General Hospital opened the Center for the Environment and Health to advance efforts to mitigate the crisis. Dr. Anne Klibanski, president and CEO of Mass General Brigham, talks about the center’s goals and how the system hopes to get it all done.

Can you discuss the genesis of the center? What are some initiatives that led to its creation?

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and healthcare has a major role to play in finding solutions. In the U.S., our sector is responsible for 8.5% of all carbon emissions. We have a responsibility, as an industry, to reduce our own carbon footprint while also providing leadership on this issue to create real change.

As both the largest health system and private employer in Massachusetts, Mass General Brigham has an obligation on behalf of our patients, our employees and the communities we serve to advocate for public policies that are aimed at building a healthier, more sustainable and more equitable future.

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Here are a few examples of how we are doing this critical work: We are actively involved in the City of Boston’s Climate Action Plan, which seeks to significantly curb greenhouse gas emissions, through our participation in the Green Ribbon Commission. We are a member of the America Is All In coalition, joining with like-minded institutions from across the country on a national climate strategy to meet the urgency of the current crisis.

We’ve also made some inroads across our own system with regard to sustainability. We have reduced our greenhouse gas emissions from energy by about 60% since 2008. Our hospitals are undergoing concerted efforts to reduce anesthetic gases, and biohazard and food waste, while increasing medical device reprocessing and blue wrap recycling. Our recently built administrative complex is highly sustainable. But there is so much more work to do.

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What are you doing to ensure the work that is happening at the center is being coordinated across the Mass General Brigham system?

Grassroots efforts such as the center are in place at institutions across our system. Brigham and Women’s Hospital, for example, instituted a Watching our Waste initiative, which is designed to improve waste segregation in the operating room and in periprocedural spaces, with the aim of reducing the volume of regulated medical waste while also increasing medical device reprocessing. Also of note, we now have clinical directors of environment and health at four Mass General Brigham hospitals.

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On a system level, earlier this year, we launched the Climate and Sustainability Leadership Council. The council is chaired by Niyum Gandhi, the system’s chief financial officer, and includes 13 members from across Mass General Brigham. The council has been charged with developing systemwide goals for emission-reduction, advancing sustainability practices and initiatives, and identifying opportunities for synergy with other system priorities.



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