Skoll Foundation


Health Care Without Harm

Skoll Entrepreneur(s): Gary Cohen
Award Year: 2006
Focus Area(s) Addressed: Healthcare Access and Treatment

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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 the field of environmental health. He was first co-director of the National Toxics Campaign and cofounder of the Military Toxics Project, then helped launch a free clinic serving survivors of a chemical disaster in Bhopal, India. When he returned home, he co-founded Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) in 1996. Since then, HCWH has become a worldwide phenomenon, moving markets and changing practices through partnerships with major hospital systems and their institutional buyers.


  • In Dec. 2014, HCWH called for climate action at the launch of a new initiative at a White House event. Called “HHS Health Care Resilience Initiative,” HCWH joined health care leaders to commit to building a climate resilient health system.
  • On Oct. 11, 2013, as the world’s governments were signing a global treaty aimed at phasing out the use and emissions of mercury, Health Care Without Harm and the World Health Organization launched an initiative to achieve the Minamata Convention’s goal to end the manufacture, import and export of mercury-based medical devices by 2020.
  • HCWH has built a collaborative network of 500 organizations in 53 countries to raise awareness, create new messengers for environmental health and develop tools and strategies to transform the health care industry.
  • Practice Greenhealth and the Center for Health Design launched the Healthier Hospitals Initiative with 11 of the leading hospital systems in the US.  Together they represent over 500 hospitals nationwide— 10% of the entire hospital market. On Dec. 19, 2013 Practice Greenhealth released  the 2013 Sustainability Benchmark Report, a detailed analysis of useful benchmarking information for hospitals’ environmental programs.
  • In July 2012, Cohen addressed senior administration officials at the White House about Greening America’s Hospitals, and wrote about the topic on the White House blog.
  • HCWH helped close more than 90% of medical waste incinerators in the U.S. and virtually eliminated mercury medical products from U.S. and European hospitals. They also promote safer technologies and waste management practices around the world.
  • HCWH developed a framework for building healthy and green hospitals that is being adopted as the basis for the LEED for Healthcare by the U.S. Green Building Council. HCWH is working to assist hospitals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and purchase a greater percentage of renewable energy to run their facilities.
  • They initiated a Green Building program specifically geared to hospitals.
  • HCWH is working with hundreds of hospitals in the U.S. to bring local and sustainably produced food to patients and health care workers.
  • In Dec. 2012,  CleanMed 2013 was  chosen as the “Emerging Green Conference” by the Capital Chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). CleanMed is the nation’s preeminent conference for health care sustainability co-sponsored by Health Care Without Harm.
  • In Nov. 2011, Health Care Without Harm urged Senators to act on testimony presented at a U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing in support of the Safe Chemicals Act (S. 847), which would substantially amend the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
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