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Wisconsin-based Gundersen Health plans to alter its fossil-fuel investment policy

By Bob Herman

Posted: October 3, 2014 - 6:15 pm ET

Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, Wis., will freeze all future investments in fossil fuels as part of a strategy that executives said will help “set the standard for environmental stewardship in healthcare.”

Gundersen CEO Dr. Jeff Thompson, a pediatrician, said the health system's board and finance committee backed the decision, making Gundersen the first U.S. healthcare organization to publicly revise how fossil-fuel securities fit in its portfolio.

Under the new plan, Gundersen will not invest any more funds in companies that extract fossil fuels, such as coal, gas and oil. However, it will not divest or reduce any current levels of investment.

Physicians, clinicians and public health advocates have recently urged hospitals and health systems to sell or freeze their fossil-fuel holdings. They've said the use of fossil fuels has been a major factor in the Earth's shifting climate, and several studies have shown that climate change can be linked to adverse health outcomes, such as higher numbers of asthma cases and vector-borne diseases.

Gundersen has been at the forefront of energy efficiency and sustainability measures within the healthcare industry. By the end of this year, the system expects to run entirely on self-produced, renewable energy—a feat that prompted the White House to honor Thompson in 2013 for his public health focus in the context of global warming.

Gundersen has invested millions of dollars in several projects to reach its energy goal, such as a biomass boiler that uses organic wood products instead of natural gas. The biomass boiler, which creates steam to heat and power the main campus, represents more than a third of Gundersen's independent renewable energy.

“We've made a commitment to renewable sources of energy that are both sustainable and lower the level of harmful emissions,” said Mike Allen, Gundersen chief financial officer. “It's walking the talk. Every little bit counts.”

As of Dec. 31, Gundersen had $541 million in cash and investment assets. Allen said approximately $20 million of the system's bond portfolio investments were tied to fossil-fuel companies.

Follow Bob Herman on Twitter: @MHbherman


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