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Climate Care Is Health Care

Blue Shield takes sustainability commitment to the next level.

This story is also available in Spanish.

Virtual care is one way we are reducing our carbon footprint

The healthcare industry contributes a surprising amount to greenhouse gases, accounting for 10% of U.S. emissions. These emissions contribute to the climate change we experience every day. Hospitals produce 6,600 tons of waste daily, equivalent to the weight of nearly 1,900 elephants. That's in addition to the emissions and waste of pharmaceutical companies, medical suppliers and healthcare-related transportation, which all contribute to healthcare emissions.

According to Antoinette Mayer, vice president of Corporate Citizenship at Blue Shield of California, climate change is not only taking a toll on human health, but is also magnifying health inequities.

“From increased asthma rates to mental health issues caused by climate anxiety, climate change is a public health crisis,” said Mayer. “What’s more, low-income communities of color are disproportionately impacted. Latino migrant farmworkers are 20 times more likely to die from extreme heat than the white population, while Black children have the highest asthma rates from living in high-pollution areas. Mitigating climate change and addressing pollution are essential for improving everyone’s health, and it’s also a social justice issue.”

Committing to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi)

Blue Shield of California is one of only a handful of health payer plans globally working to reduce our emissions by committing to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). SBTi is the most rigorous and clearly defined pathway to reduce our carbon footprint in line with the Paris Accords. By 2025, Blue Shield has committed to set near-term, companywide emissions reductions and submit to SBTi for validation.

Pinpointing the sources of emissions is a key step in Blue Shield’s climate journey. Within Blue Shield of California's carbon footprint, an estimated 82% of emissions come from the companies Blue Shield invests in, 15% comes from supply chain, and 3% comes from direct and indirect operations.

“We recognize that climate care is health care. We’ve built a lot of momentum as a company internally and are working toward gaining traction with our investment portfolio and our suppliers,” said Mayer. “We also have an incredible opportunity to influence healthcare delivery by creating incentives and rewarding providers and hospitals that are operating more sustainably.”

As Blue Shield of California works to set our emission targets with SBTi, we are already implementing a wide variety of initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint:

  • Decreasing emissions through our Virtual Blue care model.

In 2023, we launched Virtual Blue, a health benefits plan that offers members high-quality, integrated virtual care, with in-person care when needed or preferred. Compared to fully in-person models of care, hybrid-virtual models can reduce emissions by up to 25%.

  • Mitigating impacts through our Supplier Sustainability Program.

In 2023, we engaged 41 of our suppliers who account for 67% of our supply chain emissions. 90% of these suppliers reported to CDP, an essential first step for decarbonization. We are working with our suppliers to take the next step to set their own science-based goals for decarbonization.

  • Supporting marginalized communities.

We support environmental justice nonprofits that address climate impacts on low-income communities of color through activities such as urban greening, climate literacy, clean energy access and air quality adaptation strategies.

  • Operating sustainable offices.

The majority of our offices are LEED-certified or energy-star certified, with features such as on-site solar systems, electric vehicle charging stations, water use reduction systems, enhanced air quality, overhead light sensors, computer-controlled heating and air conditioning, and bike parking.

Paul_ Antoinette_ Gary HZ
Left to right: Paul Markovich, CEO at Blue Shield; Antoinette Mayer, vice president of Corporate Citizenship at Blue Shield; and Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm
  • Working toward zero-waste operations.

Our goal is to achieve zero waste by the end of 2025 by decreasing our operational footprint, reducing waste, maximizing recycling and composting, and engaging employees in sustainability practices.

  • Engaging our employees.

In 2023, our employees volunteered 3,453 hours with environmental causes as part of “Blue Goes Green,” our initiative that empowers employees to create positive environmental impacts at work, at home and in our communities.

  • Reducing paper to save trees.

Our goal is for 80% of our members to use paperless communications by the end of 2025. We are on track with 61%, the equivalent of saving 25,000 trees annually, all while carefully protecting members’ data.

According to Mayer, Blue Shield has both an opportunity and responsibility to lead the way, bringing others along to meet the goals of the Paris Accords of getting to net-zero emissions by 2050.

“I’m a mother of two young children. In 2050, my son will be 32, and my daughter will be 29,” said Mayer. “They’ve already woken up to orange skies from wildfires, and I think about what the world will be like if we don’t make serious progress on climate change. I’m proud of the work Blue Shield of California is already doing, and there’s so much more to be done to truly marry climate care with health care.”

To learn about Blue Shield of California’s work on sustainability, download our one-page sustainability fact sheet or visit