The US healthcare industry produces 10 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions each year. Which is no surprise given health industry expenditures are $4 trillion per year or 20 percent of the US GDP.
Our industry has a unique responsibility to care for our neighbors and uphold the Hippocratic Oath of medicine which is “First, do no harm.” As health technology leaders, we have a responsibility to help our organizations — be it a physician office, a health system or a supply chain or technology vendor — to reduce carbon emissions.
The CIO’s role
As a long-time CIO, I know IT leaders can play many roles. From tactical department leaders to magnanimous champions of transformational technologies, every day we talk with frontline nurses, CXOs and IT analysts to solve problems. To take advantage of the range of exposure, here are 10 ways CIOs (and health IT leaders in general, including vendors) can help reduce carbon emissions.
CIO as a corporate leader
- CIOs diagnose and solve complex problems with our company Board of Directors and fellow CXOs every day. Next time you’re talking with them, ask about the company’s strategy for carbon reduction. Start the conversation with a simple question and see if there is interest in a short follow-up meeting to organize data and exchange some initial ideas.
- Invest 10 minutes a day for 5 days to educate yourself on the topic. You can look for articles by Matt Eckelman and Jodi Sherman, two leaders in carbon reduction in healthcare; go to the website for the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication; read Bill Gate’s book, ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’; or check out GreenCIO for ideas and articles.
- As CIOs, we often work on large, multimillion-dollar projects with vendors. Your power vendor (aka utility company) is no different. Call your rep and ask them for a meeting. But, as is the case with other vendors, don’t be surprised if they ask you for a list of end points (aka street addresses) so they can do an assessment.
- Competitive advantage is a principle of capitalism. Across the globe, carbon reduction strategies are being sponsored by private equity, debt rating agencies and government entities. Consider thinking about carbon reduction strategies as a way to reduce costs, attract and retain talent, market against your rivals, and lead the community.
CIO role as department leader
- The majority (72 percent) of Americans believe climate change is happening, according to Yale research. As a department leader, CIOs can safely estimate that at least 50 percent (possibly more) want to know about your climate strategy and participate in it. A program along these lines may improve employee satisfaction scores and retention and generate creative ideas.
- Talk with your IT leadership team about the extent of the IT carbon footprint. Clearly data centers are within the scope, but how far will your team define the footprint? Will you include IT closets, desktops, commuting milage, and your major vendors’ carbon footprint? Consider assigning a project manager to start tracking and measuring your vision.
- There are three types or “scopes” for carbon emissions. Scope 1 is for emissions produced from your operations; scope 2 is your power vendor’s emissions; and scope 3 is your supply (vendor) chain. Ask your vendors for their carbon reduction strategy when you ask for other paperwork (ISA, BAA, contract renewals, support extensions, etc.).
- Work with your data science team to identify your company’s carbon footprint. This will take a little bit of research (see #2), but soon these data experts will be able to estimate a rough carbon footprint (which can help you with #1 and #9).
CIO’s role as leader within the industry
- Communicate with your industry peers (through associations, at events, or through messages) about what you’re doing. This will take a generation or two. Today we are in the early days of this journey, but the inflection point is coming after this economic turbulence. Be ready to exert your competitive advantage (#4)!
- Exhale and celebrate, you have started a marathon! One consultant I spoke with said it took a Fortune 100 company over 5,700 projects to get to net zero carbon footprint. CIOs are used to long, multi-year complex projects. EMRs are still being optimized today. Moving to the cloud isn’t a flip of the switch. Similarly, implementing a comprehensive carbon reduction strategy will take years. But it’s not your successor’s responsibility — it’s yours. Let’s go!
In addition to serving as CIO at HCA Healthcare since 2010, Andy Draper, PhD, is founder of GreenCIO, a non-profit organization designed to “activate CIOs to take action in their company and engage their vendor ecosystem to get to a carbon neutral world as fast as possible.” He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Denver. To contact Andy, please click here.
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