Addressing the Whole Health Effects of Climate Change
As part of our whole-health approach, which encompasses health factors outside of the doctor’s office, Elevance Health works to alleviate the effects of climate change on health.
The healthcare sector must lead efforts to address climate change. Climate change impacts critical physical, behavioral, and social drivers, such as mental health conditions and food security. Disruptions to ecological systems and changes in weather can worsen chronic health conditions and lead to increased prevalence of conditions like asthma, cardiovascular failure, and infectious disease.
“The science supports that rising temperatures impact health,” said Dr. Shantanu Agrawal, chief health officer at Elevance Health. “As a health partner, we have a responsibility to preserve and improve the health of our members and communities. This includes doing all we can to mitigate the health effects of climate change.”
Climate change is also a health equity issue as it has a more significant impact on certain groups of people, exacerbating pre-existing inequalities. Healthcare concerns can quickly become emergencies during wildfires, flooding, and heat waves, especially for people of color, those with lower socioeconomic status, and people with disabilities. People with lower incomes live in areas with the highest projected increases in premature death due to climate-driven extreme temperatures, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report. Individuals with disabilities may have ongoing medical care needs disrupted by climate events.
When it comes to addressing climate change impacts on health, the healthcare industry can start in its own back yard. Healthcare is one of the most carbon-intensive service sectors in the industrialized world. The U.S. healthcare industry is estimated to contribute 8.5% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Elevance Health’s Net Zero Strategy
An essential piece of Elevance Health’s long-term climate strategy is getting to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, which means reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from our direct operations and value chain to as close to zero as possible.
We are proud to be an initial signatory to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Care Sector Pledge, focused on achieving net zero by 2050. Our strategy to reach net zero includes making our operations energy efficient, buying renewable electricity, and working with our supply chain to mitigate its impact, while seeking ways to protect biodiversity.
We are confident in our ability to achieve net zero, having met our 100% renewable electricity goal four years ahead of schedule, in 2021. All the electricity needs of Elevance Health offices, data centers, and clinics are covered by renewable energy.
Elevance Health supports biodiversity in part by purchasing carbon offsets to neutralize direct emissions that cannot be sourced renewably. These offsets, initiated in 2021, support the conservation of managed forestland and outdoor recreation in an economically at-risk region of Tennessee (where Elevance Health operates the state’s Medicaid plan). As a result of this investment in combination with buying renewable electricity, Elevance Health is one of the first major U.S. health organizations that is carbon neutral for operations, a major milestone on our path to net zero.
A large percentage of our total greenhouse gas footprint comes from indirect emissions associated with our business. To mitigate these emissions, Elevance Health engages with suppliers on setting their own science-based reduction targets and disclosing other climate-related information. We are also assessing our corporate investments for emissions reduction potential and climate-related risks.
“As a major player in a carbon intensive industry, we recognize our role, ability, and responsibility to make a difference with our resources,” said Hakon Mattson, chief sustainability officer at Elevance Health. “We are reducing emissions in our operations and our value chain because it is the right thing to do for the health of our communities as well as all our stakeholders.”
Building Climate Resiliency Now
While working toward long-term climate goals, Elevance Health is building capacity and the resilience to manage current effects of climate change.
We build climate resiliency by preparing for and rapidly responding to immediate needs caused by climate-related disasters. We support members who are affected by climate-related disasters by making it easier to refill prescriptions, replace durable medical equipment, obtain medical supplies, and access healthcare services.
We also are examining how different populations experience climate-sensitive health risks. For example, we are working on solutions that predict and mitigate the health effects of pollution caused by wildfire smoke.
We recognize that climate change is a driver of health, exacerbating health inequities. Operating more sustainably, including our suppliers in our sustainability strategy, and building climate resilience all position us to respond to the needs of the communities we serve and fulfill our purpose to improve the health of humanity.
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