In the Utah Foundation's 2016 Utah Priorities Project survey, Utah voters statewide ranked air quality as the second most important issue in 2016, and voters along the Wasatch Front ranked air quality as the number one most important issue.

This won't be news to anyone. In fact, the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2017 report ranks the Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem area as the seventh worst in the U.S. for shorter-term spikes in particle pollution, a regular occurrence during wintertime temperature inversions. Logan was ranked eighth.

While our community is making positive strides to improve air quality, Intermountain Healthcare agrees that this continues to be an important public health issue. Poor air quality affects the people we care for and poses increased risk to children, the elderly and those with existing diseases. One-third of Utah's population is either 18 and under or 65 and older; about 230,000 have asthma; and nearly 500,000 have cardiovascular disease.

As Utah's population is projected to double by 2050, we believe that businesses, organizations, families and policymakers can meet this challenge head-on by finding impactful ways to improve local air quality. Intermountain Healthcare's mission is "Helping people live the healthiest lives possible." For us, the focus of our mission is providing the best healthcare to our patients, but our mission extends beyond our hospitals and clinics, into the communities that we serve.

Intermountain Healthcare takes seriously the impact that the operation of our facilities has on the local environment and our air quality. Our current initiatives to reduce our footprint include promoting and participating in the Clean Air Challenge and the Salt Lake City Mayor's Skyline Challenge, installing solar at our Supply Chain Center and the Intermountain Park City Hospital, expanding recycling efforts, promoting public transit to our employees, making changes to our automotive fleet and implementing energy efficiency upgrades such as LED lighting and boiler/chiller upgrades.

When it comes to reducing energy use in our clinics and hospitals, we start with benchmarking the energy consumption in a facility. After all "you can't manage what you don't measure." Benchmarking shows us which facilities are running efficiently and which are using more energy than needed and contributing to unnecessary pollution.

All of our hospitals and most of our clinics have already been benchmarked and we're actively striving for Energy Star Certifications in our facilities. Energy Star Certification is available to the top 25 percent most efficient buildings. To date, five Intermountain hospitals as well as our Supply Chain Center are Energy Star Certified. Energy efficiency is a cost-effective strategy that delivers savings and reduces emissions year over year for the life of a building, while lowering operating costs and helping us direct our financial resources to provide the best care for our patients and community members.

Salt Lake City leadership is investing resources to ensure policy that is in support of improved air quality, a healthy environment and a better quality of life for all Utahns. The energy performance of large buildings in Salt Lake City is an important contributor to Utah air quality. Improved awareness of building energy performance can increase market competition for the most efficient buildings, and help the large building sector play an active role in cleaner air.

Intermountain Healthcare, along with other Utah businesses, residents and government agencies are making strides to clean our air, but we still have a long way to go. We encourage Utah employers to take a leadership role in implementing proven strategies and tools that will improve air quality in our communities now and for years to come.

Elizabeth Joy, M.D., M.P.H., is medical director of Intermountain Healthcare Community Health. Steve Bergstrom is director of the Intermountain Healthcare Office of Sustainability.