While the litany of environmental problems and their implications for health summon physicians to play an active role as educators, researchers and advocates in preventing disease and protecting human and ecosystem health, CAPE believes that we need to start closer to home, and to live out the principle of primum non nocere – first do no harm.
The health care sector must ensure that it is not itself contributing to the very environmental problems that need to be addressed. Yet the health care sector – 10 percent of the Canadian economy – is a significant user of energy and contributor to global climate change; a significant producer of solid, liquid and gaseous wastes, including such potent pollutants as dioxins (from the incineration of PVC) and mercury; a significant user of plastics, paper, lumber and other resources; and, as an indirect result of these and similar activities, a contributor to loss of habitat and biodiversity and the impairment of ecosystem health.
CAPE therefore believes that we have to work to make the health care sector as a whole more environmentally responsible – more “green.” CAPE hopes to educate hospitals, health care professionals and Ministries of Health about the need to ensure that the health care sector does not actually worsen ecosystem and human health. To this end, CAPE co-sponsored a conference in October 2000 on “Health Care Without Harm” from which came a proposal to establish a national coalition to ‘green’ health care.
The Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care was established in late 2000 and includes both major national health care organizations (the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian College of Health Service Executives, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Canadian Society for Environmental Medicine, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and of course the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment), major national environmental organizations (Pollution Probe, the Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention, the Toronto Environmental Alliance/Health Care Without Harm, Great Lakes United) and major hospitals and other health care organizations.
The mission of the Coalition is “to minimize the adverse environmental and human health impacts of Canada’s health care system” and its core areas of focus include:
- energy conservation
- pollution prevention
- resource conservation and solid waste reduction
- good indoor air quality
- environmentally responsible design and management, including both health facility accreditation and ISO 14001 certification.