Honoring Our Heritage, Leaving a Legacy: Environmental Health and Climate Change

By Richard Hicks

“Legacy” is defined, in part, as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor from the past.” We often think about legacies in personal terms associated with our children—what will our legacy be to them when we are gone? And can it leave them in a better place than they were before?

We think less often about business or organizational legacies. But organizational legacies can be even more important than personal ones because of the resources behind them and their potential impact on both individuals and society.



Since 1937, the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) has worked to advance the environmental health profession and to protect the public and the environment. Over time, NEHA’s work has evolved as new environmental health threats have been identified and their impacts better understood. NEHA’s work around climate and health is also evolving. In 1997, NEHA published its first position paper on Global Climate Change. The position paper stated that NEHA supports the concept that “greenhouse gases are responsible for a significant portion of the measured change in global climate” and “supports the concept of an association between global warming and an increased risk to public health.” In 2007, NEHA began publishing articles and columns addressing climate change in its Journal of Environmental Health. And beginning with its 2008 Annual Educational Conference & Exhibition, climate change and sustainability educational sessions were added to the agenda. NEHA revised its position in 2017 when its board of directors adopted a new Climate Change Policy Statement. Through position and policy papers, journal publications, conference education, and focus groups, NEHA has acknowledged and discussed climate change as an issue of professional concern.


In 2017, NEHA formed its Climate Change Program Committee, giving new emphasis to the area. As a member of the Climate Change Program Committee, I am grateful for the chance to give input and guidance on this issue to NEHA. The committee hopes its efforts to provide climate change information and tools can help more environmental health professionals better understand the relevance of this issue to their field, and to either begin or expand work in this critical area.

It’s worth noting that at various times in the past, the idea that the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe affects our health was pioneering. Many of the health and environmental gains we have achieved are because of people—and organizations—who have understood the importance of being open to new ideas, had the commitment to move in new directions, and built a positive legacy from their work.


Climate change might be the most important issue of our time. It’s rewarding to be part of NEHA as it broadens its work in this area to leave a positive legacy—for current members, environmental and public health professionals, and everyone.


Mr. Richard Hicks, MPA, is a member of the National Environmental Health Association’s Climate Change Committee and Director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability, Columbus Public Health.


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