Gary Cohen

Ashoka Fellow
United States, North America
Fellow Since 2011
My work: Transforming the healthcare industry from environmental hazard to environmental steward.

Citation

This profile was prepared when Gary Cohen was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The New Idea
Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), co-founded by Gary in 1996, encourages hospitals and healthcare providers around the world to become more responsible stewards of the environment and the public’s health. HCWH challenges the health industry to adhere to its principle of “Do No Harm” by looking inward at its own negative environmental footprint—including everything from its disposal of medical waste to its intensive energy use to its toxic cleaning supplies—and the negative health effects of that footprint. HCWH then works with groups of providers to commit to improved practices—for example, eliminating the use of mercury—and leverages hospital purchasing power to pressure medical suppliers to develop greener, safer products.

Gary’s innovation lies in moving the healthcare industry from an environmental hazard to a steward of new practices that support rather than work against overall societal health and are aligned deeply with the Hippocratic Oath. He leverages the industry’s mission as well as its size and global reach to position it as an emerging leader in environmental sustainability, linking environmental health with human health, and incubating a robust green economy in the process. Indeed, Gary is confident that the health sector can help shift the entire economy toward more sustainable, healthier products and practices.

HCWH is a coalition of more than 500 member organizations in fifty-three countries. It also operates Practice Greenhealth, a U.S.-based membership organization with over 1,100 hospital members and eighty businesses. Over the last fifteen years, it has nearly eliminated the market for mercury-based medical equipment in the U.S. and the E.U. and has closed 90 percent of medical waste incinerators in the U.S. responsible for releasing cancer-causing toxins into the atmosphere. HCWH has also stimulated demand for safer health products around the world. Perhaps most important, it has developed a hybrid value model in which businesses play a central role in delivering social value, and where market power drives its success and expansion across the globe. Moving forward, Gary is increasingly focused internationally and on reducing the healthcare industry’s contributions to climate change and transforming the sector to lead the global economy toward renewable energy, green chemicals, and healthy food systems.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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