Protecting the health of Americans begins with ensuring the well-being of our planet — and healthcare distributors recognize the industry’s responsibility to drive meaningful action on reducing climate change.
As part of the distribution industry’s commitment to explore solutions, HDA President and CEO Chip Davis recently participated in “Building a Climate Resilient Health Care System” hosted by Axios and sponsored by HDA. The event explored how the healthcare industry, which currently makes up about 10 percent of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is considering its environmental impact through plans, policies, and infrastructure.
Joining the discussion was the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) President Dr. Victor J. Dzau as well as Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill). Below are a few key insights from the discussion.
1.) The healthcare system has a unique role and ranging responsibilities in tackling climate change.
Given the cumulative climate impact of the healthcare sector, Dr. Dzau emphasized that the system is “highly motivated to say, ‘Let’s do something about this,’” and added, “As a system that cares for patients, certainly we should not contribute to climate change and the negative health effects of climate change.”
Davis emphasized the distribution sector has the ability to support crisis response efforts through its national reach and expertise. “What’s critically important from our role [as distributors],” said Davis, “[Is] to make sure that as a geographically dispersed industry across the country, that we are prepared … to make sure the healthcare services, medicines, medical products and other critical aspects of care are available in advance of when these natural disasters are impacting regions of the country.”
Rep. Underwood discussed how the system has a responsibility to continue educating the public, stating, “I think that at a really tactical level, it’s the responsibility of healthcare system … to make sure those patients understand the specific climate change-related risks that are associated with the co-morbidities that they may be presenting with.” She also noted, “When we think about climate change and the way that it is impacting our lives, it’s not just economic, it’s not just in our immediate environment, but it’s certainly impacting our individual health and our public healthcare system.”
2.) Healthcare distributors are working to mitigate their carbon footprint as an extension of their commitment to the health and safety of the patients they serve.
Davis shared that “we have a number of leading members who have talked about setting public goals to, for example, a 50 percent reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Other members have publicly stated their commitment is to be carbon neutral by 2050, if not sooner.”
In addition, Davis shared, “You’re seeing … significant investments that are being made. As an example, one of our members has invested millions of dollars to convert the energy used primarily in one of their largest distribution centers to solar-powered-driven energy. We have other members that are looking at piloting the use of electronic trucks and vehicles. … You have other members who are looking at renewables in terms of how medicine and medical supplies are packaged, and how you can use reusable packaging.”
3.) Public-private partnerships, such as a recently established NAM Action Collaborative, can help pave the way toward achieving climate resiliency.
Commenting on NAM’s Action Collaborative on Decarbonizing the U.S. Health Sector, Dr. Dzau stated, “Supply chain, such as transportation, packaging, manufacturing and cold chain — the whole collaborative that NAM has put together … this is a public-private partnership to say, ‘let’s look at our practices, let’s look into our measures, let’s look at how to innovate and how to get systematic changes to reduce overall the emission of carbon within our health sector.’”
Davis noted, “I am pleased on behalf of HDA and our members to be co-chairing a workstream related to looking at the supply chain and infrastructure component of the entire U.S. healthcare system.” He added, “This is a multiyear initiative, and many of our companies are actively involved in providing counsel both directly to the initiative and indirectly through our leadership as well.”