‘Care of the Earth’
Catholic health system Ascension Health has made sustainability one of its tenets.
About 15 years ago, the Daughters of Charity and the Congregation of St. Joseph combined their health systems to establish Ascension Health. After remarkable growth, the ministry was recognized as America’s largest Catholic health care system in 2004. Today, Ascension—the parent organization of Ascension Health—is composed of 24 regional Health Ministries with 131 hospitals in 23 states and Washington, D.C.
“Care of the Earth” is the Catholic social teaching tenet of sustainability, so it’s no surprise that Ascension, its Health Ministries and founding institutions are focused on environmental responsibility. Ascension hospitals began to track energy use in 2007 using ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager with a goal of reducing energy use by 5 percent. They met that goal in 2011, and that same year hospital representatives asked Ascension to create a central program to track all sustainable initiatives that had been in progress for years at its individual hospitals.
Ascension worked closely with Practice Greenhealth, Health Care Without Harm, the U.S. Green Building Council, the Catholic Health Association and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering to create an Environmental Stewardship Program with nine focus categories:
- Leadership and Infrastructure
- Education and Communication
- Energy Efficiency
- Water Conservation
- Waste Management and Reduction
- Food Systems
- Sustainable Site and Transportation
- Chemical Management
- Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
Today, hospitals within Ascension continue to track sustainability in these areas. “We ask each Health Ministry to set four goals every year: one goal in the area of energy efficiency, the second in water conservation, the third goal in education and communication, and then the fourth goal can be from any of our nine categories,” said Lois Sechrist, senior analyst of Environmental Stewardship at Ascension Health. Flexibility in goal setting and green team organization is a way for each Health Ministry to evaluate its region’s specific needs in environmental stewardship, Sechrist said.
Since tracking its energy use beginning in 2008, Ascension has achieved a 13.8 percent reduction in gas and electric consumption, which translates to $43 million in cost avoidance and almost 720,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions reduction. At press time, Ascension is ahead of schedule in the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge to reduce energy use by 20 percent across all hospitals in the system by 2020, a goal it accepted in 2011. These successes are even more remarkable when considering Ascension has only one staff member focused on energy efficiency at the system office.
“Care of the Earth” is the Catholic social teaching tenet of sustainability, so it’s no surprise that Ascension, its Health Ministries and founding institutions are focused on environmental responsibility.
One of Ascension’s notable achievements in environmental stewardship is the success of Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, which has two Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications. Dell Children’s Medical Center was the first hospital to achieve LEED Platinum certification in 2008 and achieved the first LEED for Healthcare Platinum in 2013.