Reducing healthcare carbon emissions: Using the AHRQ & IHI Primer on climate change at your clinic

By Brian Ward

The idea of tackling climate change can seem immense, particularly for an already overworked healthcare staff, but breaking down sources of healthcare greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and setting reasonable goals for each makes it possible.

There is no denying the threat that climate change poses to public health and patient safety, says Bhargavi Sampath, MPH, a senior research associate at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) who led the development of Reducing Healthcare Carbon Emissions: A Primer on Measures and Actions for Healthcare Organizations to Mitigate Climate Change for AHRQ and IHI.

The primer serves as an action guide to help healthcare organizations reduce their carbon footprint and protect communities from climate threats. The primer describes six domains contributing to GHG emissions in healthcare: building energy, transportation, anesthetic gas, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, medical devices and supplies, and food.

Building on this framework, the primer identifies core and elective measures to track progress and critical strategies for reducing GHG in each domain. The primer also features vignettes of what health systems have done to reduce GHG and includes a collection of resources and tools to support implementation.

“What we have been seeing is just how much [climate change has] adversely impacted care in particular ways,” Sampath says. “One, the increased demand for healthcare services, especially during extreme weather events. The surge in healthcare demand definitely puts a strain on the workforce and existing resources. The second thing we've seen is reduced access to healthcare services, particularly affecting those in more kind of rural, remote, or low-resource settings.”

Researchers say there's now a 66% chance we will pass the 1.5°C global warming threshold between now and 2027. Sampath notes that when combined with other health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, the cascading effects of climate change can overwhelm the health and social care systems already in place. As droughts and storms, air pollution and allergens, and extreme heat and cold become more frequent and intense, caring for patients and their health will require healthcare professionals to fight climate change.

“Climate change has cascading effects on health and healthcare from environmental conditions [by] putting communities at risk and [with] the hospitals and healthcare workforce having to respond to the unavoidable health impacts,” Sampath says. “What we see is the rising temperatures and an increase in allergens and harmful air pollutants, increased frequency, intensity, and even duration of extreme weather events, all leading to acute shocks and chronic stresses for communities.”

Visit to read the primer and get access to other climate change resources. Basic and Platinum subscribers can read our full coverage of it in the article Climate change hurts healthcare; healthcare hurts climate change.

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