Go Blue. Live Green: Michigan Medicine deepens commitment to sustainability

January 24, 2023  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

Approximately a 4-minute read

Key takeaways:

  • The Environmental Sustainability & Carbon Neutrality program will inspire a number of initiatives that will enable planetary health.
  • Future plans will build on previous success, as U-M Health has been recognized for environmental excellence for the past 19 years.
  • Faculty, staff and learners will be invited to help ensure the success of the new initiatives and programs.

Ever since the removal of traditional large waste incinerators back in the mid-1990s, Michigan Medicine has been an active advocate for improving environmental sustainability and stewardship of earth resources. Over the years, the organization has made important strides in areas such as energy conservation, waste reduction, material recycling, food composting and sustainability.

Now, Michigan Medicine plans to inspire a more comprehensive and engaging Environmental Sustainability & Carbon Neutrality program. As the senior vice president and new chief environmental, social and governance officer for U-M Health, Tony Denton, J.D., M.H.A., will guide the development and implementation of various initiatives that align with overarching goals to enable planetary health.

“Our future plans and success will build on what we have accomplished over the past 25 years, while coming from a place of strength,” Denton said. “We are proud to be a leader in protecting the environment, as evidenced by U-M Health’s 19th consecutive year of being recognized for environmental excellence by Practice Greenhealth in 2022.”

Practice Greenhealth is a national organization, dedicated to environmental sustainability in health care. However, there remains much work to do as the health care industry contributes as much as 8.5% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, impacting climate and health.

“The planned growth of Michigan Medicine makes our sustainability commitment a challenge,” Denton added, but clarified, “our responsibility to community is to pursue a balance between minimizing our impact on the environment while staying true to our tripartite mission of providing excellent patient care, education and research.”

Finding the balance includes working toward sustainable solutions from many angles. The comprehensive program will encompass four distinct areas:

  • Fulfill the 2025 sustainability goals previously set in 2011 in partnership with the U-M campus which includes greenhouse gas reductions, reducing carbon output per passenger trip, waste reduction, increased local food purchases, protecting the Huron River water quality and investments in sustainability culture programs.
  • Support new carbon neutrality goals set in 2021 which requires all greenhouse gas emissions attributed to our institution be eliminated or offset by investments in carbon credits or carbon dioxide removal projects. (See related sidebar)
  • Maintain and build on early successes, including alternative transportation options, continued greening of the operating room sites, sustainable food sources and virtual care.
  • Aspire toward future success through innovative and forward-thinking initiatives such as the Green Anesthesia Initiative to remove harmful anesthetic gases from the atmosphere and “Platinum” level designation under the Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) Certification program in the D. Dan and Betty Kahn Health Care Pavilion. Future success will also require collaboration with other organizations, including plans with DuPont to implement a new medical plastics recycling initiative, as well a new arrangement with Daniels Health to establish a new reusable Sharps container program to reduce significant levels of landfill waste and improve workforce safety.

While many of the new environmental sustainability initiatives and aspirational goals will require participation and engagement of many departments, campus partners and external companies, the Michigan Medicine efforts will be most successful through involvement of faculty, staff and learners across all settings.

U-M Health, in partnership with the medical school and U-M will work together to reach these Carbon Neutrality Goals, set in 2021: Eliminate emissions resulting from direct, on-campus sources (Scope 1) by 2040; Achieve carbon neutrality for emissions from indirect sources resulting from purchased electricity (Scope 2) by 2025; Establish net-zero goals for emissions categories resulting from indirect sources like commuting, food procurement, and university-sponsored travel (Scope 3) by 2025.

The medical school has taken a community approach to sustainability by designating a Carbon Neutrality Council to explore four main areas — organizational engagement, education, buildings and energy, and activities and initiatives. The council’s goals are to incorporate sustainability and carbon neutrality into the school’s core values; generate awareness and create engagement throughout the school community; implement projects that reduce or avoid expansion of the school’s carbon footprint; and incentivize behaviors that support sustainability.

“True success within any sustainability program cannot happen without the support of the community,” Denton said. “We expect that our team efforts will lead to measurable impact to reduce carbon emissions and reverse the effects of climate change. I am eager for us to excel as we seek to inform, educate, and inspire everyone within Michigan Medicine and the communities we serve to do the same in protecting our environment. All of us can make a difference, even more so by working together and to impact the world community.”

Watch for future Headlines articles and other communications about the Environmental Sustainability & Carbon Neutrality program initiatives and progress. In the meantime, visit the Environmental Stewardship website.