As Earth Day arrives this year, the Brigham continues dedicated efforts to promote environmental sustainability, climate change awareness and advocacy. Since appointed to the role of medical director for Climate and Sustainability in 2021, Gregg Furie, MD, MHS, has overseen a breadth of climate initiatives at the hospital — from educating clinicians to promoting sustainable practices to advocating for change on a national level. Furie is also a Brigham primary care physician and a member of the Mass General Brigham Climate and Sustainability Leadership Council and a member of the Brigham Climate Action Council.
In anticipation of Earth Day, Furie reflected on the Brigham’s progress over the past few years, as well as exciting future initiatives.
Can you tell us about yourself and your role at the hospital?
Since beginning my role as medical director for Climate and Sustainability two years ago, my work has focused on three primary areas. One is preparing clinicians to address current and emerging health threats from climate change. The second is reducing the environmental impact of our hospital’s overall operations, with a large focus on our clinical operations. And the third is advocacy, so we, as health professionals, can use our voice and our understanding of the health impacts of climate change to influence policy that addresses the climate crisis.
What initiatives has the Brigham taken to reduce the environmental impact of its operations?
First, it’s important to mention that the Brigham and Mass General Brigham have been leading efforts to make health care more sustainable for decades. While we still have a lot of work to do, we have made impressive progress around energy efficiency and increasing the amount of renewable energy that we use to power our facilities.
One of our most important initiatives — which we hope to have complete by the summer of 2023 — is an assessment of Mass General Brigham’s environmental footprint, with a focus on greenhouse gas emissions, particulate matter pollution and water consumption. Once that footprint is fully developed, we can subsequently use it to inform ongoing sustainability work by allowing us to target our initiatives in areas that will have the greatest impact across the system.
Another initiative is called ‘Watching Our Waste,’ which initially started in the operating room (OR) at the Brigham and seeks to reduce the amount of material inappropriately disposed of in red medical waste bags.
Members of the Anesthesia Department are leading an initiative focused on reducing the use of certain anesthetic gases that have far greater heat trapping ability than carbon dioxide and make a significant contribution to health care’s climate impact. The initiative focuses on raising awareness of the climate impact of anesthesia and implementing interventions to support reduced use of the most environmentally deleterious gases.
These are just a few of the ongoing efforts that I think will be critical to minimizing the impact of our operations on the environment.
Could you tell us about the work that’s been done to address emerging health threats from climate change?
This work has been largely focused on education — we’ve hosted a series of grand rounds for a variety of clinical departments and divisions across the Brigham and have been developing a novel curriculum for the Internal Medicine (IM) residency program.
The resident curriculum is designed to teach trainees about climate change’s health impacts and how that influences the way they care for patients. We also help them understand the connection between their clinical decision making and treatment decisions to health care’s environmental impact.
In addition, building on our experience with the IM resident curriculum, we partnered with a few academic medical centers to develop Climate Resources for Health Education. Housed within the Global Consortium for Climate and Health Education, this effort provides medical schools, schools of public health, residency training programs and others with access to free, evidence-based curriculum content related to climate change and health.
One aspect that the Brigham is focused on is reducing the environmental impact of supply chain logistics. How is that initiative progressing?
We recognize that our supply chain represents a substantial portion of our overall environmental impact. Locally, we’re working on increasing the amount of reprocessed, single-use devices that we use in our hospitals. We are also collaborating with the U.S. Healthcare Climate Council to encourage our suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of the products they manufacture and distribute.
Can you tell us about the advocacy work the Brigham is involved in?
Much of our work is focused on influencing public policy, both by working directly with policymakers and by providing testimony on climate-related legislation. We’re also developing a formal advocacy strategy around climate change, largely focused at the state level but also at the federal level. We’ve been involved in advocacy opportunities, like the recent Climate Action Campaign National Public Health Advocacy Week, to encourage federal policymakers to enact tougher standards around pollution.
Are there any climate initiatives or sustainability actions that you’re excited about in the Brigham’s future?
Mass General Brigham recently signed the U.S. Health Climate Pledge, which commits us to reducing our emissions by 50 percent by 2035 and achieving net zero by 2050. This was a really important step in providing a specific, science-based target that we are working to achieve. This will be supported by ongoing efforts to decrease emissions associated with the energy used to heat, cool and power our buildings. This could be transformational. Similarly, with the results of the ongoing environmental assessment we’ll be well positioned to develop a formal strategy for reducing our environmental impact.