Sustainability Remains a Priority at UVM Medical Center
Recognizing that a healthy climate is critical for all patients and communities, The University of Vermont Medical Center has taken another bold step in its journey toward sustainable health care by joining Race to Zero, the United Nations-backed global climate action campaign, with a pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
UVM Medical Center is in the first cohort of health care organizations around the world – and among the first three in the United States – to officially commit to the United Nations' campaign. As part of its commitment to Race to Zero, UVM Medical Center pledges to achieve an interim target of 50 percent reduction of energy use by 2030, which is in line with its 2018 commitment to Burlington 2030, a local partnership that aims to cut transportation emissions, energy use and water consumption by 50 percent.
Health care emissions in the U.S. account for 8.5 percent of the nation’s carbon footprint. The UVM Medical Center has been steadily working to incorporate sustainable practices in all operations, from large-scale recycling and composting initiatives to green buildings, local farm partnerships and the elimination of harmful chemicals. These efforts continue to be a priority, despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19.
“Earth Day is every day here at UVM Medical Center. Everyone in our organization is involved, in one way or another, in our efforts toward achieving a carbon-neutral future,” says Vice President of Hospital Services Gary Scott. “Sustainability is ingrained in all we do.”
For example, UVM Medical Center invests in sustainable food production that reduces the use of antibiotics, pesticides and fertilizers. The hospital purchases from more than 70 local producers and about 42% of its food dollars are spent within 250 miles. “Even with supply-chain issues during the pandemic, we were able to make progress in these efforts and recently developed a new partnership with a local dairy, Miller Milk,” says Director of Nutrition Services Diane Imrie, who chairs the UVM Medical Center Sustainability Council.
Waste Reduction has been another long-term commitment. UVM Medical Center currently recycles 36 percent of total waste at the Main Campus and, in 2019, averaged 401 tons of compost per year, about one-third of the food waste generated. Those numbers decreased in 2020 and 2021 as fewer people ate at the hospital during the pandemic.
By weaving environmentally-sound practices into its patient- and family-centered mission of care, the UVM Medical Center has established itself as a national leader in health care sustainability. For the past several years, Practice Greenhealth, a national advocate for sustainable practices in health care, has recognized the UVM Medical Center, most recently with its 2021 Environmental Excellence Award. Health Care Without Harm recognized UVM Medical Center as a 2021 Climate Champion of the Health Care Climate Challenge, with a silver award for Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction (Energy) and a gold award for Climate Resilience. The Health Care Climate Challenge is the official health care partner of Race to Zero. UVM Medical Center also received the 2020 ASHE Energy to Care award for reducing Energy Use Intensity at the Main Campus by 10 percent annually since 2018.
Megan Malgeri, MD, a family medicine physician at UVM Medical Center Family Medicine in Milton, says she supports all of the hospital’s measures to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change. “The climate crisis is one of the biggest public health threats of our time,” she says, explaining that higher temperatures and precipitation increase vector-borne illnesses like Lyme disease, worsen allergies and asthma, and place stress on the heart and lungs.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated, there are issues that require us to come together and use science, public health and policy to help guide us toward solutions to global problems,” says Dr. Malgeri. “We are rising to the challenge posed by COVID. Let’s also work in concert on climate change, supporting ways to lower carbon pollution, which will improve our health.”
As part of the Race to Zero initiative, UVM Medical Center also commits to accountability and transparency by sharing detailed annual updates for publication by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. As a member of the Race to Zero campaign, UVM Medical Center joins 1,049 cities, 67 regions, 5,235 businesses, 441 investors and 1,039 higher education institutions with action plans and robust near-term targets in line with the Paris Agreement.