Throughout the years, nurses have played a vital role in addressing the many environmental hazards that affect human health. From advocating for safe workplace conditions to implementing community lead prevention initiatives to supporting policies to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, nurses have been instrumental to leading change resulting in a healthier population. Similarly, by addressing climate change as a health issue, nurses can further make a positive difference in promoting healthy people and communities.
As trusted professionals that are present in various community and practice settings – schools, hospitals, and public health departments, to name a few – nurses hold an immense ability to make a difference, reach a vast majority of the population in different localities, and drive action to address climate change. In addition, the U.S. healthcare sector contributes about 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the country, with nurses particularly apt to drive change within the health sector to reduce emissions.
Recognizing the role and potential of nurses as change agents in health systems and in communities, ANHE in partnership with Health Care Without Harm, an international organization working to transform healthcare by promoting more sustainable practices within health facilities and institutions, have launched the Nurses Climate Challenge. The Nurses Climate Challenge is a nationwide educational campaign aimed at educating 5,000 health professionals on climate and health, with nurses leading the education.
Nurses can visit nursesclimatechallenge.org and register to become a Nurse Climate Champion. Once registered, Nurse Climate Champions gain access to a comprehensive set of tools and resources including:
- Outline and suggested steps for planning educational events.
- Sample emails to help engage hospital leadership in the Challenge
- Resources for educational events, including promotional posters, sample slide decks for presentations, and tips and strategies for talking about climate change
- Easy to use guide for taking climate action in practice and home settings
To make education successful, it is essential that nurses focus on shared values and common understanding in discussions with different audiences on climate and health. ecoAmerica’s February American Climate Perspectives Survey shows that across rural, urban, and suburban communities Americans agree that climate change is happening now, that the U.S. should produce more wind and solar, and that now is the time to act. The resources provided through the Nurses Climate Challenge encourage nurses to emphasize the realities of climate change locally, focus on the health-related impacts (a common shared value), and to highlight the available solutions in educational sessions
Since the launch of the campaign in May 2018, over 450 nurses on five continents across settings have registered to become Nurse Climate Champions. In the U.S., Nurse Climate Champions in rural, suburban, and urban areas are working to bridge the divide that occurs across communities. So far, Nurse Climate Champions have educated over 4,750 health professionals about climate change.
Exemplars of Nurse Climate Champions include a Chief Nursing Officer in Stillwater, MI, a bedside nurse in Bozeman, MT, a student nurse in Madison, WI, and a clinical instructor of nursing and public health in San Antonio, TX. These champions represent a breadth of nurse leaders across the country working in communities representing diverse populations, experiencing different climate-related impacts, and holding varying beliefs and perspectives. Though diverse in background and expertise, all Nurse Climate Champions operate with the shared vision of launching a movement of health professionals committed to taking action to protect the health of their patients and communities from climate change.
To learn more about the Nurses Climate Challenge visit: nursesclimatechallenge.org.
 Eckelman, M.J. & Sherman, J. (2016). Environmental impacts of the U.S. health care system and effects on public health. PLOS ONE, 11(6), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0157014
Cara Cook, MS, RN, AHN-BC, is the Climate Change Program Coordinator at the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE), and Shanda Demorest, DNP, RN-BC, PHN, is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing and Consultant at Health Care Without Harm.
ANHE is a partner of Climate for Health, a coalition of health leaders committed to caring for our climate to care for our health. Founded by ecoAmerica, Climate for Health offers tools, resources, and communications to demonstrate visible climate leadership, inspiring and empowering health leaders to speak about, act on and advocate for climate solutions. Learn more about our partnership and the resources available to you here.