Green Jobs

The nursing profession has begun to embrace sustainability in healthcare practices, helping you and the planet stay healthy.

Nurses Taking the Lead in Green Initiatives

While many different sources are driving the sustainability movement in healthcare, those in the nursing profession have provided some of the key green initiatives in the industry.

The concern over environmental issues is evident throughout the nursing profession. For example, the International Council of Nurses (INC), according to information on its Website, has adopted the position that “nurses have a duty to reduce or eliminate the negative impact of health care waste on individuals, communities and the environment.

“Nurses, as professionals, need to be aware of the consequences of the health care waste produced by the health sector.”

Two nursing organizations in particular have taken the lead in promoting sustainability in the nursing profession – the INC and Healthcare Without Harm.

Healthcare Without Harm

Healthcare Green InitiativesOne of the leading organizations in the battle to bring ecological-friendly practices to healthcare is the organization Healthcare Without Harm, co-founded in 1996 by Charlotte Brody, a registered nurse. The organization began in reaction to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report that named medical waste incineration as the leading source of dioxin, a potent carcinogen. The organization eventually consisted of hundreds of organizations in 52 countries, according to the Healthcare Without Harm website, with offices in Washington, D.C., Brussels, Buenos Aires and Manila.

Healthcare Without Harm has been instrumental in achieving environmental goals in many areas in the past decade, including:

  • Virtually eliminating the use of mercury-based medical equipment in the U.S. The group also worked to ban mercury thermometers in the European Union and lobbied nations to adopt policies to phase out mercury-based medical devices in the Phillippines and Argentina.
  • Closing medical waste incinerators.  The organization has worked to promote safer methods of disposing of medical waste not only in the United States, but around the world.
  • Initiating a Green Building program. This program specifically targets healthcare facilities and has resulted in hospitals across the country reducing energy waste as well as a reduction in medical waste.
  • Advocating healthy food in hospitals. This ongoing Healthy Foods program encourages hospitals to buy food from local sources and support food suppliers who use sustainable agriculture practices.

Environmental Positions from the International Council of Nurses

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has taken the position that nurses can be instrumental in making environmental-friendly changes in the healthcare industry.  The organizations leaders have backed up that position in a number of ways.

The ICN was one of more than 30 healthcare organizations to sign the Durban Declaration on Climate and Health in December 2011. Among other positions, the declaration calls on governments around the world to take action to mitigate man-made climate change, noting that the World Health Organization has warned that unchecked climate change could lead to widespread illness, particularly cholera, malaria and dengue.

It also asks for more representatives from the health care industry on international panels that are dealing with climate change issues.

The ICN also has papers outlining the organization’s position on many environmental issues. They are available at

Environmental Health Becoming Part of Nursing Curriculum

Schools across the nation are beginning to add environmental courses to the curriculum and adopt sustainability initiatives, making care of the environment part of overall education.

For example, the University of Maryland offers a master’s degree in public health with an environmental health focus. The school also hosted the Environmental Excellence in Health Care conference in late 2011, giving Trailblazer awards to five Maryland hospitals that are leading the sustainability movement in healthcare.

Emory University in Atlanta also has established sustainability goals on campus, aiming to consume 75% locally grown food in its own hospitals and cafeterias by 2015. And the University of Las Vegas now offers a PhD in Nursing with sustainability emphasis that combines environmental issues with economic and social/cultural challenges.

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