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New Year Reflection

By Gary Cohen, President and Founder, Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth and named one of the 2015 MacArthur Fellows for his leadership in health care sustainability

2015 was a big year for Practice Greenhealth, Health Care Without Harm, and you—all of our hospital partners. Whether we saw you at CleanMed, participated in Food Day, or joined a sharing call, we can look back on this past year and celebrate our collective success in pushing a national agenda on sustainability in health care.  

We completed the first three-year phase of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI). Through HHI, we collected environmental performance data from nearly 1,000 hospitals and demonstrated how to move the market toward healthier food and safer products and reduce waste and energy intensity. The Healthier Hospitals Initiative also helped build the trust and collective impact approach that allowed us to launch the Market Transformation Group as well as the Health Care Climate Council in 2015.

The Market Transformation Group is building national momentum to eliminate the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in meat production. On Food Day alone, 300 health care facilities across the country served more than 235,000 meals that featured meat and poultry raised without the routine use of non-therapeutic antibiotics. Many more of you already include meat raised without routine antibiotics in patient meals and cafeterias offerings and over the past year, we have seen a national shift in the way we approach antibiotics in animal agriculture.

CleanMed marked its 12th year by drawing more than one thousand people to Portland, Oregon to celebrate and discuss best practices in health care sustainability. With 68 educational sessions, workshops, tours, and events, attendees were given the opportunity to discuss health care’s most pressing sustainability challenges around reducing energy and water use, environmentally preferred purchasing of products, services and food, reducing toxics and chemicals of concern in health care facilities, and waste reduction and management.

Globally, more than 60 institutions involving 8,200 hospitals in 19 countries made commitments to the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge in the lead up to the Paris climate talks in December. Five members of both Practice Greenhealth and the Health Care Climate Council came to Paris—Dignity Health, Gundersen Health System, Kaiser Permanente, Partners Healthcare, and Virginia Mason—and participated in a range of climate and health events, connected with other health systems around the world, and called on governments to take strong climate action to protect our health.

All of us are on a journey together, one that seeks to accelerate the adoption of sustainable practices by hospitals and health systems across the country and lead our communities to a healthier future. Looking ahead to 2016, I am excited to see us continue this journey to safeguard patient and human health, here in the United States and around the world.


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