Environmental stewardship isn’t about the journey – it’s about the destination – Advice Eating

This opinion piece appeared in News Journal on Earth Day, April 22, 2022. It was written by ChristianaCare Rob McMurray, Chief Financial Officer, and Bettina Tweardy Riveros, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs and Community Engagement and Chief Health Equity Officer.

Rob McMurray, MBA, Chartered Accountant

Global environmental challenges can often seem abstract and distant, but for our neighbors on Wilmington’s Riverside and 11th Street Bridge neighborhoods last September, the floodwaters that poured through their homes and displaced more than 200 people were very close and very real.

These neighborhoods are not alone. Underserved and impoverished communities across the country, often Black, Latino or Native American, often live in the most ecologically vulnerable regions. They are far more likely to be exposed to natural disasters like floods, as well as poor water quality, poor air quality, and toxic pollution.

The health and life expectancy of their residents suffer as a result. It’s a fact that there’s a strong connection between your zip code and your overall health. Residents of Wilmington who are within miles of each other in different census tracts have a 13-year difference in life expectancy related to where they live.

Bettina Tweardy Riveros

These issues are not new, but the last two years of the pandemic have brought even greater focus to the injustices we have inherited as a society. A 2020 Harvard study, for example, showed that air pollution was associated with higher death rates from COVID-19 — likely one of the many reasons the pandemic has disproportionately damaged Black and Latino communities.

At ChristianaCare, we are committed to health. In recent years we have increasingly recognized the strong connection between health and the environment.

We are taking action and looking for partners to join us.

As the largest private employer in Delaware with more than 13,000 caregivers, we are committed to being environmentally responsible, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and being a leader in sustainability efforts.

This isn’t just talk. Over the past year, we have engaged extensively in strategic planning to develop an environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) framework that will drive our environmental impact. This work goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to anti-racism and health equity.

We are developing an organizational framework that embeds environmental and equity goals in every part of our business, including our purchasing practices, facility management, advocacy and investments, and even the way we provide care and connect with our surrounding community. We are now working to identify standards and metrics for reporting environmental performance and to develop a governance model that ensures health equity and environmental protection.

From a public health perspective, creating a healthy environment makes a clear case. It also makes sense from a business point of view. Strong ESG standards drive companies to be more innovative, resilient and successful over the long term. They also encourage a more engaged workforce.

At ChristianaCare, we are committed to health. In recent years we have increasingly recognized the strong connection between health and the environment.

At ChristianaCare, serving our neighbors with excellence and love is what motivates us every day and makes us feel good about what we do. For many of our caregivers, this passion and enthusiasm for making the world a better place includes their commitment to environmental issues and social justice. They are striving to do more and we are building a framework that harnesses their energy and helps them make a difference.

As we work to become more environmentally conscious, healthcare systems like ours need to recognize that we too are part of the problem. According to one study, the healthcare sector is responsible for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, with hospitals responsible for more than a third of those emissions. By reducing our own carbon footprint, we can take responsibility for a more sustainable and equitable Delaware through the way we buy our products, reduce our waste, and use energy in our buildings.

The Lancet Commission called climate change both the “greatest global health threat” and the “greatest global health opportunity” of the 21st century. Air pollution, which already costs the United States more than $6 billion annually in healthcare costs, is projected to cause up to 4,300 additional premature deaths by 2050 – in just 28 years, if we don’t change course.

We don’t have to lose those lives or accept those costs. These are solvable problems.

We can take responsibility for a more sustainable and equitable Delaware by purchasing our products, reducing our waste, and using energy in our buildings.

This year’s Earth Day theme is Invest in Our Planet. Investing starts with a plan and is designed to deliver results. At ChristianaCare, we develop environmental standards that help us meet the health needs of our community, create jobs and strengthen our local economy, while reducing healthcare costs and promoting health equity.

This isn’t about the journey – it’s about the destination. We want to make a difference and are committed not only to taking responsibility ourselves, but also to reporting on our progress.

A healthy environment benefits us all. As we celebrate this Earth Day, we encourage everyone to think about how you can make a difference – in your business or workplace, in your home or in your neighborhood. Now is the time. Make a plan, and then do it. And for other anchor institutions and employers in our community, we invite you to join us in this work. Together we can create a better world of work for everyone.

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