RUSH Joins National Pledge to Decarbonize Health Care Sector, Make Facilities Resilient

RUSH leadership recognized by Biden Administration officials at COP27
The Rubschlager Tower and Rubschlager Building at RUSH

RUSH was celebrated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference on Nov. 10 for pledging ongoing action to decarbonize the health care sector and make health care facilities more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Rush University System for Health has formally committed to pursuing the climate goal of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Work has already begun to implement energy reduction projects, pursue renewable energy sources, explore incorporating environmental considerations into the procurement process, and integrate new waste avoidance measures at RUSH University Medical Center.

A September 2021 consensus statement from more than 200 medical journals named climate change the No. 1 threat to global public health. It exposes millions of people in the United States to harm every year — with disproportionate impact on communities that are often already the victims of longstanding discrimination — through increases in extreme heat waves, wildfires, flooding, vector-borne diseases and other factors that worsen chronic health conditions. The health care sector also contributes to climate change, accounting for about 8.5% of U.S. domestic emissions.

The Environmental Sustainability team at RUSH was founded in 2020 with the hiring of a sustainability manager, and the team has been growing since.

“Our work is guided by five pillars of impact: mitigating climate change impacts, improving our utilities consumption efficiency, infusing sustainability into supply chain and procurement practices, reducing and rethinking waste, and engaging and educating staff, students and visitors,” said Ian Hughes, RUSH’s sustainability manager.

The Environmental Sustainability team has completed Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas inventories for the medical center campus for the last four years and is currently developing a Scope 3 emissions inventory. According to Hughes, the strategy for achieving a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 involves aggressive pursuit of energy-efficiency projects across campus to reduce consumption, active procurement of renewable energy and the incorporation of LEED standards into new construction projects. Although these initiatives are still growing, the ES team was awarded a 2022 Partner for Change Award from Practice Greenhealth for their collective work in 2021.

The HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity — part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health — developed the White House/HHS Health Sector Climate Pledge to help focus industry response to climate challenges. In addition to reducing their carbon footprint, signatories also commit to producing detailed plans to prepare their facilities for both chronic and acute catastrophic climate impacts.

One hundred and two prominent health companies in the U.S. have signed the White House/HHS Health Sector Climate Pledge, including organizations representing 837 hospitals as well as leading health centers, suppliers, insurance companies, group purchasing organizations and pharmaceutical companies.

“HHS returns this year to COP27 to report great progress,” said Adm. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health. “Through the efforts of the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity and several other HHS agencies, we have made significant strides in introducing resources and supports to help communities and care providers accelerate their work to reduce harmful emissions and increase climate resilience in the health sector.”

More information about how RUSH is responding to our nation’s climate challenges is available here.

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