Where collaboration, innovation, partnership, and health care come together

Interview by: Dr. Elizabeth Baca and Stephanie Fischer
Guest: Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente


Thousands of delegates will soon arrive to San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit.  What brings these delegates from all around the world is their common dedication to collaboration, innovation, partnership, and health when advancing significant climate action.

In our last post, we learned about the My-Cultiver™ Richmond Food Production Center in the East Bay Area.  This is an innovation that deepens local community wealth, health, and economic resilience by supporting small-scale producers of color.  One of the largest supporters of the center is Kaiser Permanente that contracts with them for patient meals and supports these producers to be competitive in institutional markets, as well as provide healthier, sustainable food for their patients.

As one of the nation’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health care plans, Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to improving their communities’ total health in impactful ways.  Located in communities from the Mid-Atlantic to the West Coast and Hawaii, Kaiser Permanente provides healthcare to more than 12 million members.  In order to achieve total health, this health care system has recognized the necessity of also addressing climate change.  For the conclusion of this blog series, we sat down with Bernard J. Tyson to learn how Kaiser Permanente is a leader in advancing community health and climate action.


Health and Climate Change

Climate change poses a number of challenges to communities, some easier to identify than others.  Here in California, we have seen the devastating effects of wildfires on homes, agriculture, and the economy.  Tyson recognizes the health consequences of these climate events as well:

“When we look at challenges with fires and floods and the like, you know that it is having a mental health impact on the individuals, on the community and the greater society.  Thinking through how we look at mental health in the context of global climate change is such a natural connection.”

This natural connection has influenced Kaiser Permanente to incorporate climate action and sustainability in their pursuit of total health.  While their environmental stewardship may not be common for a health care system, Tyson believes these actions are essential to best serve their communities:

“We are becoming more and more sophisticated in our understanding of what total health means; the environment plays a significant role in that.”

Kaiser Permanente also sees their holistic understanding of health as an opportunity to evaluate its own policies and practices.  Tyson states that it is important for Kaiser Permanente to operate in a way that benefits the environment:

“The journey for us has been a combination of self-awareness of how we contribute to the good and bad of climate change, and as a major health care system, to understand the effects of climate on an individual’s health.”

Kaiser Permanente’s environmental stewardship initiative addresses a variety of topics: climate action, safer products, sustainable food, waste reduction, water conservation, management and accountability, collaboration, as well as grants and investments to local organizations also committed to community health.  While this initiative is wide in scope, Tyson states that they are all aligned in purpose:

“All the parts hold together, with the center piece being total health.”


Collaboration towards Innovation

Tyson remarks on the importance of Kaiser Permanente’s team and partnerships to make their environmental stewardship possible:

“First and foremost, we have a fantastic team of experts and knowledgeable, passionate individuals from our physician, safety, and environmental community.”

Tyson also notes the California state government as an important partner in their team.  Having a state government that shares responsibility of climate action, “creates a synergy” in their work to help communities.

“Being able to work together towards the right set of goals serves as an example of what is possible: a better climate for California; a better climate for the world.”

Both the State and Kaiser Permanente’s interdisciplinary team all come together to make a difference and work towards total health.  Tyson notes the importance of individuals, like Kathy Gerwig, whose expertise and network of like-minded organizations contribute to Kaiser Permanente’s robust climate action.  Having an “open book” policy and a share of knowledge between organizations has been essential for Kaiser Permanente’s polices to have impact:

“The teams working on this have been able to make it real for us, not theoretical, as we looked at sustainable food, waste reduction, water conservation, and gas emissions.  That has been critically important to set policy in our organization”

For Tyson, the way these policies break away from the theoretical is their incorporation of measurable goals and impacts:

“Through the process of policy development, especially with experts from our National Facilities Services department, we set a goal to be carbon neutral for greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.  We are well down the path to achieve that.”

To attain this 2020 goal, Tyson mentions that Kaiser Permanente will take other climate actions as well:

“Our aim is that by 2025 we will recycle, reuse, and compost 100% of our nonhazardous waste, helping us avoid harmful methane emissions from the landfills.  We are also going to reduce water use by 25% per square foot in our buildings.  Those are tangible, measurable, achievable goals towards our sustainability strategy.”

Some of Kaiser Permanente’s other goals are to increase their amount of sustainable purchases, meet international standards of environmental management in all of its hospitals, and to pursue new partnerships to reduce environmental risks to natural ecosystems impacting their communities.  Tyson states that Kaiser Permanente’s progress towards achieving these ambitious goals is due to the organization’s dedication to collaboration and total health:

“The team really thought through a comprehensive approach that is both inclusive of everyone’s contributions, and also very specific to organizational goals and outcomes that we want to achieve.  We feel responsible for making a difference, so the comprehensiveness comes along with the responsibility of being a mega health care system.”


Moving Forward

At the Global Climate Action Summit, Kaiser Permanente is excited to announce these ambitious goals to the climate community with more to come.  Tyson looks forward to the synergies and learning that will take place at the Summit, for it’s an opportunity for others to get engaged and be involved in climate action.  For Tyson, climate action is not only “the right thing to do,” but critically important for healthy communities to thrive:

“Yes, we should all feel from an altruistic standpoint that leaving the Earth better than when we came is just a good thing.  Beyond that, in a total health model, you cannot ignore the environment around you.  This includes where you live, how you live, what you eat, what you drink, what you breathe, –it just makes sense.”


Thank you for joining us in this blog series about the importance of health and climate action. Now we as we enter the Summit. Let’s step up our climate actions for health in 2018!