Sustainability & Health


The Relationship Between Human Health and the Environment

There is a strong relationship between human health and environmental health. From the air we breathe to the water we drink and use, life here on Earth depends on the natural resources and the environment around us. Sustainability is the ability to meet our present needs without compromising future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland Commission 1987), and it has three components: environmental conservation, social responsibility, and economic development. By definition, sustainability aims to promote healthy, viable, and equitable communities.

In the same way the healthcare industry promotes healthy behaviors such as eating right and exercising; it should encourage environmental stewardship since the health of our environment affects public health. For example, many health issues are directly related to the quality of our water and air. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 1.3 million deaths occur each year as a result of urban air pollution (reference). Furthermore, the healthcare industry is a significant consumer of energy and water and generates considerable amounts of waste. The industry has a responsibility to adopt sustainable practices in order to efficiently use its resources and minimize environmental impacts.

Topics for healthcare professionals and leaders to consider include (see publications and resources for more information related to these topics):

  • Incorporating sustainable practices in hospitals and healthcare facilities that are good for people, good for our environment, and good for business.
  • Using sustainable design and development techniques in hospitals and healthcare facilities to promote healthier, safer, and more eco-friendly environments.
  • Growing global population and the production and demand of food.
  • Human health risks associated with climate change.
Selected Publications

Incorporating Sustainability into Community-Based Healthcare Practice (Patrick et al. 2011)

Healthier Hospitals Initiative (Samet 2011)

Beyond the Bin: How Healthcare is Responding to the Sustainability Movement (Popely 2009)

Climate change and human health: Impacts, vulnerability, and public health (Haines et al. 2006)

Impact of regional climate change on human health (Patz et al. 2005)

Globalization and the Sustainability of Human Health (McMichael et al. 1999)

Other Resources

Healthier Hospitals Initiative

Practice Greenhealth

Green Guide for Healthcare

Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals

Hospitals Without Harm



This page was last modified on July 1, 2020