The Joint Commission announced a voluntary Sustainable Healthcare Certification (SHC) program for U.S. hospitals, effective Jan. 1, 2024, acting upon requests from healthcare organizations that want to accelerate their sustainable practices and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The SHC program, available to Joint Commission accredited and non-Joint Commission accredited hospitals and critical access hospitals, provides a framework to help organizations begin, continue, or expand their decarbonization efforts and to receive public recognition for their commitment and achievements in contributing to environmental sustainability.

The certification’s national standards and elements of performance establish needed structure, rigor, and accountability to accelerate the industry’s growing sustainability efforts. The program includes setting priorities and governance for sustainability initiatives, creating baselines to measure three sources of GHG emissions, and developing an action plan to reduce them.

Healthcare organizations that prioritize sustainability can gain lasting benefits such as cost savings, operating efficiencies, staff recruitment and retention, and potential payments and tax credits through recent federal incentives. According to the Joint Commission, decarbonization also is an imperative for improving healthcare equity and patient safety, as the individuals least able to compensate for the effects of the climate are already burdened with adverse social determinants of health.

“We want to work with the momentum of healthcare organizations leading the way in sustainability excellence – inspiring and guiding others that want to prioritize greener practices,” said Jonathan B. Perlin, MD, PhD, MSHA, MACP, FACMI, president and chief executive officer, The Joint Commission Enterprise. “Healthcare is one of the largest sectors in the United States and one dedicated to improving people’s health and well-being. Now is the time for The Joint Commission to take its place among other leading healthcare organizations to help accelerate environmental sustainability. Together, we can collectively reduce the healthcare sector’s carbon footprint and reduce hospital visits, illnesses, premature deaths and medical costs from severe weather events and other climate impacts.”

The Joint Commission also has launched an online Sustainable Healthcare Resource Center. It provides key strategies, tools, literature, videos, and links to help organizations get started on sustainability, as well as innovative solutions for those that have already taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint. It can assist hospitals as they prepare for SHC and serve as a forum to share and learn from others.

Hospitals can begin working toward certification immediately and apply as soon as Jan. 1, 2024. Prior to this formal launch date, interested hospitals may complete a pre-application form.