The human and health impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. Extreme weather events are disrupting more and more lives and businesses while also exacerbating chronic health conditions like asthma, expanding the range of infectious diseases, and worsening mental illness. In 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that to avoid catastrophic changes to our climate, we need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and get to net zero emissions by 2050. It’s time for all of us to take the threat and opportunity of climate change seriously, but how can businesses make meaningful change? How does sustainability fit into the competing priorities so many of us face? We spoke with leaders at four major U.S. health systems — Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, Boston Medical Center (BMC), and Partners Healthcare — that are finding solutions.

Climate change strikes at the very core of health systems whose mission is to keep people healthy. They are also affected financially and structurally by the rising frequency of extreme weather events, and they are major contributors to carbon emissions. Even distant climate events can impact them. Consider what happened when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017. The storm killed people and knocked out power. It also disrupted supply chains. Suddenly, across the United States, doctors and patients faced shortages of critical intravenous fluids and medications because Puerto Rico manufactures IV bags for the rest of the country, and the plants were severely damaged in the storm. For months, nurses had to resort to standing at the patient bedside slowly injecting medications by syringe instead of letting the medication drip in from an IV bag.

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