HCWH works closely with the health care sector to help it reduce sources of pollution, waste, and harmful emissions in line with the health professional’s pledge to “first, do no harm.” Health Care Without Harm focuses on a number of environmental issues, such as chemical use and regulation, climate and health, green building and energy, and healthy food systems. Hospitals and the supporting communities are working together to develop safer alternatives, identify safer practices, and implement new programs to reduce waste, use fewer toxins, and use fewer polluting technologies.
Besides focusing on operational sustainability, HCWH is working to re-focus health care to become the cornerstone of health in the communities it serves. To this end, HCWH is engaging hospitals on issues such as disease prevention, community health and wellness, severe weather resilience, restorative health care, and climate change preparedness. HCWH was among the first in the world to draw attention to health threats of climate change, and in 2013, HCWH Co-Founder and President Gary Cohen was named a Champion of Change by the White House for his work in helping make the link between climate and health. HCWH is currently working to provide training, education and opportunities for health professionals to speak out on climate change, which HCWH believes is the most important threat to health facing the world today.
HCWH helped establish Practice Greenhealth, a membership organization for health care facilities and supporting businesses that are engaged in sustainable building and operations, and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, a coalition of three non-profit organizations and 13 health systems that have developed best practices, guidance and tools for engaging in sustainability that are made available free of charge to hospitals across the country. Health Care Without Harmalso helped establish the Health Care Research Collaborative, which brings the scientific and academic community together with hospitals to research topics of importance to sustainability. Along with Practice Greenhealth, HCWH co-sponsors CleanMed, the annual conference for health care sustainability.
Health Care Without Harm was formed in 1996 out of concern that the health care sector was, at that time, a major source of dioxin, one of the world’s most potent carcinogens—which was being generated mainly through the burning of medical waste in hospital incinerators. HCWH partnered with hospitals to reduce medical waste and identify safer alternatives to incineration. HCWH also began a campaign to remove mercury-based thermometers and other medical devices containing mercury, a powerful neurotoxin, from the health care setting. Successful in the United States, this campaign spread worldwide and most recently resulted in an international treaty to reduce mercury in health care.
Health Care Without Harm often works through coalitions and partnership of hospitals and health care systems, medical professionals, community groups, health-affected constituencies, labor unions, environmental and environmental health organizations and religious groups. Health Care Without Harm has regional offices in Reston, VA; Brussels; Buenos Aires; and Manila. HCWH does not collect dues nor accept financial support from manufacturers or endorse specific products.