Skip to main content

Climate Change and Healthcare: An Impending Crisis

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   April 13, 2022

Here are steps that healthcare executives can take to mitigate the impacts the healthcare industry has on climate change.

The healthcare industry has had an intense focus on the current, ongoing pandemic, but there is a larger calamity that the industry can no longer ignore: the climate crisis.

The industry has a heavy impact on global and national climate change, according to a collaborative report published by Deloitte Insights, and put together by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions and the Deloitte Center for Integrated Research.

The report, released in April, shares the impacts the industry has on the climate crisis, and offers advice that healthcare organizations can implement right now to help mitigate the current climate crisis.

Climate change can affect SDOH, health equity, and wellbeing

Climate risks such as wildfires, rising sea levels, extreme heat, severe weather, air pollution, and drought wreak havoc on the planet's ecosystems, and create negative health impacts. Afflictions such as respiratory illness, infectious diseases, neurological conditions, gastrointestinal conditions, and multisystem ailments can be caused by the repercussions of climate change.

These repercussions can also affect social, environmental, and economic systems, which in turn, affect social determinants of health, sometimes called social drivers of health (SDOH).

Climate change can mean rising costs with limited return

The total cost of health services is expected to rise along with the effects of climate change.

Currently, health costs due to air pollution and climate change generate more than $800 billion a year, according to the National Resources Defense Council. The report notes that this can raise operation costs for healthcare organizations due to a damaged infrastructure, supply-chain disruptions, and an increase in complex care.

Additionally, the report says "as the industry increasingly moves toward value-based care revenue models, the financial cost of climate-related health conditions and illnesses will drive up the total cost of care, thereby dragging down the bottom lines of both health systems and health plans alike."

Taking a proactive stance against, and solving, the climate crisis

Healthcare organizations have a big impact on the current climate crisis. According to the report, if the global healthcare industry was a country, it would be responsible for 4.5% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States, the healthcare industry adds 8% to 9.8% to the total greenhouse gas emissions for the country.

It's important for healthcare organizations to mitigate these impacts, which includes investing in new technology and business models.


1. Update your organization's strategy to include climate resiliency.

2. Create a role within your C-suite to focus on, and be committed, to leading actions around climate resiliency.

3. Create an understanding of your organization's carbon footprint, climate-related health challenges in your communities, and associated vulnerabilities.

4. Assess your organization's operations, suppliers, and partners, and how all of those affect the health of the communities you serve.

5. Be aware of the future, and how your organization's risk will evolve over time.


Lloyd H. Dean, CEO, CommonSpirit Health

"No longer can we ignore the unbreakable connection between the health of our planet and the health of our people. As health care leaders, we have a responsibility to protect our patients and the communities we serve from the health impacts of climate change. This is a moral and business imperative, and at its core, climate change is a health equity issue. Caring for Earth is part of caring for the people who rely on us."

Seema Wadhwa, executive director of environmental stewardship, Kaiser Permanente

"As a sustainability leader, it’s critical to understand that you’re speaking to multiple audiences across an organization and to determine the best approach to engaging with each of those audiences. Beyond the overarching objective that we all share of being a responsible environmental steward for our communities and patients, the “why” for sustainability that leaders and stakeholders prioritize varies across functions.

"For a CFO, it might be cost savings; for an HR leader, it might be talent retention—it’s up to sustainability leaders to understand those different perspectives to generate enthusiasm and momentum around sustainability efforts."

Paulette Frank, chief sustainability officer, Johnson & Johnson

"Johnson & Johnson’s current climate goals are our most ambitious yet, including our 100% renewable electricity goal. To date, we have built over 50 on-site renewable energy systems on properties in 14 countries and have executed 15 deals for off-site renewable electricity procurement. We are wasting no time making progress because we know there is no time to waste—the world needs bold climate action to advance both human and planetary health."

Melanie Blackman is a contributing editor for strategy, marketing, and human resources at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.