Catholic Healthcare West – A Role Model for Chemicals Policy

Julie Silas | March 04, 2010 | Newsletter

Catholic Healthcare West's (CHW) recent report, "An Enduring Mission: Social Responsibility Report 2009," shows what innovative leaders can do to move toward a healthier and just society, even in these difficult economic times.

For more than ten years, CHW has been an environmental leader in the health care sector. As one of the largest nonprofit health care systems on the west coast, CHW has stated its commitment to the earth and its inhabitants and has been in the forefront of efforts to eliminate the use of mercury and PVC in medical devices, reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, provide healthy and locally-sourced food to their patients, and build buildings that are more sustainable.

Their work in 2009 was no exception. Before Congress took up TSCA reform, CHW was developing chemical policies to promote a healthier planet. In 2009, the hospital system passed a Comprehensive Chemicals Policy in order to "create an environment for patients, employees and visitors free from the hazards posed by chemicals that are harmful to humans, animals and the environment." The goal of the policy was to "develop strategies for promoting, developing and using chemicals that are environmentally preferable across their entire lifecycles."

I had the privilege of working with CHW on their 2009 Chemicals Policy, specifically to help in the sourcing of environmentally preferable building products. During that year, HBN worked with CHW to review and update their design guidelines for buildings to identify ways in which their facilities could avoid some of the worst chemicals of concern found in building materials. (See pages 46 - 47 of the report to learn about the collaboration). [Moreover, CHW was one of 18 partners from the health care and design community to partner with HBN on our Pharos Pilot Project. Both efforts were aimed at helping implement CHW's new Chemicals Policy and support sustainable buildings.]

The work of CHW and others in the Pilot Project helped HBN shape Pharos for its public release in November 2009. (Read on page 37 about CHW's experiences with Pharos and how it intends to use Pharos in the upcoming year)

We need more CHWs in the world -- private enterprises (whether nonprofit or for profit), willing to prioritize chemicals policy reform and to invest in forward-thinking actions that take those first steps toward a healthier planet. I recommend everyone read about the work of CHW, which should motivate small and large businesses to take responsibility for learning more about what's in the products that they use and to turn in the direction of healthier and more sustainable practices.