Posted: 14 Apr. 2022 8 min. read

Can health execs help offset climate-change threat?

By Elizabeth Baca, M.D., M.P.A., specialist leader, Deloitte Consulting, LLP

It has been four years since I helped plan the Global Climate Action Summit—one of the first such events of its size to address some of the health implications of climate change.1 This global initiative, which was spearheaded by then-California Governor, Jerry Brown (D), was anchored in action. The goal was to build a more sustainable environment. We brought together leaders from all sectors, including health care, to make commitments to address climate change. There was a recognition that these commitments could have a positive impact on health in the near-term.

There is wide agreement that climate change is having a negative impact our health and well-being. A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes some of the latest statistics about climate change and creates a sense of urgency.2,3 The link between climate change, public health, and health inequities is becoming difficult to ignore. There is also increased attention, particularly over the last several months, on the need to address climate change now.

Executives are increasingly concerned about climate change

Late last year, Deloitte interviewed more than 2,000 sustainability leaders across 21 countries. Close to 80% of them agreed that the world was “at a tipping point to act.” Within this leadership group, we interviewed 208 life sciences and health care executives. As I noted in a blog last fall, health care organizations are significant contributors to climate change, accounting for an estimated 8-10% of total emissions in the US, and 5% globally. The vast majority of these executives (93%) expect that climate change will impact their strategy and operations over the next three years, and 97% said their organization had already been impacted. (See our 2022 CxO sustainability report.)

What can be done?

One of the first steps in addressing climate change is to recognize enterprise strategy is also climate strategy. From digital transformation work to care model innovation, climate and environment should be considered. As we highlight in our new report, Why climate resilience is key to building the health care organization of the future, there are three interrelated strategies—mitigation, adaptation, and transformation—that can help reduce operational risks related to climate change. These strategies can also help to improve an organization’s readiness for the future and improve health and health equity in the near-term.

Leaders across the health ecosystem helped to lay out a path to illustrate what is possible across each of these three strategies:

  • Mitigation: As in other industries, life sciences and health care organizations have primarily focused their environmental-sustainability and climate-resiliency efforts on the mitigation of direct emissions and energy consumption. Many of them have set ambitious goals and some have taken concrete actions to reduce their carbon footprint. Some organizations have increased their use of renewable energy, launched more effective waste-management programs, and are relying more on hybrid vehicles to reduce transportation-related emissions. Some leading organizations have engaged with suppliers to measure and reduce their  emissions (indirect emissions from the value chain). However, these efforts have proved to be considerably more challenging due to suppliers that lack consistent and reliable systems for data collection and reporting. Leveraging industry groups and forums could help address emissions by creating common standards and leading practices. This could generate pressure on suppliers that have been slow to recognize the importance of sustainability.
  • Adaptation: Many health care organizations are investing in programs that could help them respond to extreme weather events and regional climate changes, such as drought, poor air quality, and rising sea levels. At this point, such efforts tend to be focused primarily on operations, according to our research. However, many sustainability leaders are also evaluating strategies to more effectively respond to the impact climate change has on the health of their patients, members, and customers. Investing in capabilities such as data mapping (e.g., integrating data on drought impacts into patient geographies) and predictive analytics (e.g., leveraging risk-stratification scoring to prioritize system waste reduction effort) are among the ideas that can improve an organization’s understanding of climate change and the impact it can have on the communities they serve.
  • Transformation: The adoption of transformative technologies (e.g., remote sensing, virtual platforms) and care models (e.g., hospital-at-home, on-demand virtual PCPs) were accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These technologies are paving the way for the Future of Health while providing health systems, health plans, and life sciences companies with capabilities to respond to climate change. These technologies and capabilities can provide the foundation for new business models that help organizations proactively and rapidly reach vulnerable patients/members/customers during extreme climate events while also reducing their organization’s physical and emissions footprints.

There is still time for optimism

Climate change represents a significant threat to global public health. COVID-19 demonstrated how our lives can be significantly disrupted by unexpected events. Climate change has the potential for even greater disruption. However, I remain optimistic. Over the past several months, I have noticed increased attention from investors to boards to grass roots advocacy groups that are taking action against climate change.

In March, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a new rule that would require publicly traded companies to disclose information about their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as details about how climate change is affecting their business. I see this proposal as another important step forward. We still have a long path ahead and a lot of work, but I feel that we are moving in the right direction.

April 22 is the 52nd anniversary of Earth Day, and I’m encouraged to see that many health care leaders are looking for ways to keep our planet—and its residents—healthy. Nearly 90% of the leaders we surveyed for our report agree that with immediate action we can limit the worst impacts of climate change. Happy Earth Day…here’s to our health!

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.

Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.


1 The Global Climate Action Summit 2018,

2 New IPCC report highlights urgency of climate change impacts, Yale Climate Connections, February 28, 2022

3 Climate change 2022: Impacts, adaption, and vulnerability, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, February 2022

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