Health Care Without Harm and one of its ancillary groups, Practice Greenhealth, announced Tuesday they will fully divest fossil-fuel stocks from investment assets, becoming the first U.S. healthcare organizations to do so.
The not-for-profit groups have been working with financial advisers and retirement funds for more than a year on the disinvestment process, Veronique Nagle, human resources director for HCWH and Practice Greenhealth, said in an accompanying blog post. The new policy means all HCWH and Practice Greenhealth employee retirement plans will have no ties to companies that extract coal, oil and other fossil fuels.
HCWH and Practice Greenhealth work with thousands of hospitals, medical groups and other not-for-profit healthcare companies to promote environmentally sound practices throughout the sector. Public health issues tied to climate change, green buildings, food supply, waste management and elimination of toxic materials are some of their primary program topics.
The goal is to encourage others in healthcare to follow. “We want to show everyone in healthcare that divestment is an achievable strategy in our efforts to eliminate our societal addiction to fossil fuels and improve global health,” Health Care Without Harm President Gary Cohen said in a statement.
In October, Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis., became the first U.S. healthcare organization to revise how fossil-fuel securities fit in the company's portfolio. Gundersen agreed to freeze all future investments in fossil-fuel companies, but did not fully strip out investments tied to those companies.
The idea of fossil-fuel divestment among physicians, hospitals and healthcare advocates picked up steam in the past year after the British Medical Association's journal, BMJ, and other healthcare groups called climate change “the greatest threat to human health of the 21st century.”
Many healthcare organizations do not invest in tobacco companies, saying those products directly undermine their missions of improving their clients' well-being. Divesting fossil-fuel stocks has been a more difficult business decision due to financial and political pressures.
But the narrative has continued to shift. Studies have shown global warming has negative health effects, such as higher incidences of asthma and kidney stones. The White House has called climate change one of the largest public health threats in the country. Even large financial institutions have started to alter their stance—Bank of America said last week it will reduce financing toward coal-mining companies.
HCWH and Practice Greenhealth did not disclose how large their investments are or how much the switch will cost. However, Nagle said it won't cost much, and employees supported the decision.
“As an HR professional, I have seen firsthand how this change makes good business sense for an organization and its employees,” Nagle wrote.