• Awarded: 2006
  • Issue Areas: Clean Energy · Clean Water · Environmental Sustainability · Health · Health Delivery · Living Conditions · Responsible Supply Chains · Sustainable Markets
  • Region: Central America · Central and Southern Asia · Eastern and Southern Africa · Eastern Asia · Europe · North America · Oceania · South America · Southeast Asia
  • Web:
  • About the Organization

    Just as the Hippocratic Oath begins “first, do no harm,” health care providers have a responsibility to eliminate practices that harm people and the environment.

    Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is an international coalition of more than 500 members in 53 countries working to transform the health care sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that the sector becomes ecologically sustainable and a leading advocate for environmental health and justice.

    The coalition collaborates with doctors, nurses, hospitals, healthcare systems, professional associations, NGOs, governments, and international organizations to promote the development and implementation of safe and environmentally healthy practices, processes, and products in the health care sector.

    HCWH’s work includes sustainable healthcare waste management, green building, the substitution of hazardous chemicals used in hospitals with safer alternatives, reducing health care’s climate footprint, and working with the health sector to advocate for a healthy climate.

    The health care industry paradoxically is a significant source of pollution and a contributor to trends that undermine public health.

    HCWH catalyzed adoption of standards for safer plastics, building materials, and cleaning products, healthier food, and greener energy sources.

    Gary Cohen champions the idea that a healthy planet is the only path to healthy people.

    HCWH's global coalition includes 500 organizations in 53 countries and has led to such developments as the elimination of mercury thermometers in hospitals.

    Ambition for Change

    Transform the health sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it becomes ecologically sustainable and a leading advocate for environmental health

    Path to Scale

    Engagement of Industry Actors
    A global coalition of hospitals, healthcare systems, medical professionals, community groups, environmental and labor groups – expands and grows, working to ensure that the health care system is no longer a threat to human health.

    Business Model

    HCWH engages with industry leaders to identify and promote safer products and practices (and in some case spur development of those alternatives). The system assumes the cost (or savings) associated with adoption.

    Gary Cohen was a travel writer whose life was changed by an assignment to draft a community guidebook about toxic chemicals. After meeting mothers working to protect their families from toxic dumps and other chemical threats, he devoted his life to environmental health. He co-directed the National Toxics Campaign and co-founded the Military Toxics Project, then helped launch a free clinic for survivors of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, India. He co-founded Health Care Without Harm in 1996, addressing the irony that the health care sector – whose practitioners take an oath to do no harm – was one of the largest sources of dioxins, mercury, and other toxic chemicals poisoning the environment. Beginning with partnerships with large providers such as Kaiser Permanente and Catholic Health Services, who adopted safer disposal practices and galvanizing group purchasers of health care supplies to demand safer products, HCWH catalyzed adoption of new standards throughout the industry for safer plastics, building materials, and cleaning products, healthier food, and reliance on sustainable and lower emission energy sources. At the time of the Skoll Award, HCWH had achieved a near complete phasing out of mercury thermometers (the main source of mercury poisoning) in the US and was taking that progress worldwide. More than 90 percent of US medical waste incinerators had been replaced with safer technologies.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • Global coalition includes 500 organizations in 53 countries.
    • Leadership in development and launch (2014) of the U.S. Health Care Resilience Initiative, committing to a climate-resilient U.S. health care system.
    • Launched initiative with World Health Organization to eliminate mercury-based medical devices by 2020.
    • Co-created the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) to embed sustainability into the core operations of American healthcare. 20 percent of US hospitals are implementing HHI strategies focused on leadership, energy, chemicals, purchasing, waste, and food.
    • Global Green and Healthy Hospitals (GGHH) initiative working to improve practices in 30,000 hospitals by 2018.


    Gary CohenCo-Founder and President, Health Care Without Harm
    Josh KarlinerDirector, Global Projects, Health Care Without Harm

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