Well-being programs typically challenge participants to meet behavior targets like 30 minutes a day of physical activity, 7-9 hours of sleep, and eating more vegetables. Sustainable living activities like reducing use of plastic products, curbing energy consumption, and taking other steps to diminish carbon footprints? Not so much.
Let’s change that. Sustainable living is undeniably vital; science is excruciatingly clear: The Earth’s well-being affects human health. Why not help people adopt eco-friendly habits in tandem with other health-promoting behaviors?
The Rising Tide
Physicians Michael Soman and Mark Vossler put it this way: The iconic photo that defines climate change has changed from the polar bear on a shrinking ice floe to a child wheezing for breath in a hospital emergency room. It’s a real, right-now problem… and it’s getting worse.
The good news: Many organizations and individuals recognize this urgent issue and are taking action. Fighting climate change is a growing economic and health priority for people of all ages, in their professional and personal lives. Maybe you see this passion for eco-action in your own workforce; maybe not. Regardless, current efforts must expand to mitigate disaster. Unless everyone pitches in, getting employees to join our workplace walking programs or adopt a heart-healthy diet will soon become the least of our concerns. So let’s use what we already know about behavior change to make sustainable living more appealing, convenient, and actionable.
To start integrating sustainability efforts, join forces. Many organizations have a task force overseeing and implementing reduce/reuse/recycle strategies. Team up to share ideas, expand reach, and amplify efforts with consistent messaging. If there isn’t a green team — which may be housed under the umbrella of corporate social responsibility — launch one.
Meanwhile, here’s a way to press the easy button and start influencing change: Add trackable sustainability activities to your next well-being challenge; come up with your own to match workforce needs and interests. Before long, participants will expect to see earth-friendly activities alongside step tracking and meditation as habits equally vital to well-being.
A few examples to help you integrate sustainable living in your well-being program:
Slash use of plastics/disposables.
People can pack their own bamboo, metal, or other reusable utensils, dishes, and straws. Reusable grocery bags, cloth napkins, and washable paper towel alternatives eliminate a lot of household waste. And food storage is a cinch with glass containers, silicone bags, and wax-coated cloth wraps.
Shrink your carbon footprint.
Share a tool like the EPA’s Carbon Footprint Calculator; challenge participants and their families to make everyday choices that reduce carbon output.
Get outside and play.
When people spend time enjoying nature — from hiking in a national park to fishing and camping with their families — they’re more likely to have a heart for protecting it. Time in natural surroundings also offers unique physical and mental health benefits. Learn more in The Nature Fix by Florence Williams and A Healthy Dose of Nature Is Good for Business — Promoting Green Exercise for Employee Well-Being.
Use alternative transportation.
Distribute bike commuting details and discounted or free passes to make public transit benefits evident and linked to your wellness program. Create Slack channels for bike commuters, carpoolers, and train or ferry riders for tip-sharing and social support.
Participate in community eco-events.
Sustainability fairs, recycle/reuse/repair events, tree-planting efforts, and action groups are just a few ways people can get out and get involved in making a difference for a healthier planet… and community well-being.
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Our industry views evidence-based programming as a linchpin for effectiveness. The evidence regarding climate change and human health is staring us in the face; it makes sense to expand our definition of well-being to include sustainability. Surely we can promote these habits with the same fervor and science-based, multifaceted approaches as we do for physical activity, nutrition, emotional resilience, and more.
For the sake of our families, communities, businesses, and planet, we can’t afford not to.
- Act on Climate Change — Yale Program on Climate Change Communication
- Tips to Use Less Plastic — Green Education Foundation
- Top 20 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint — GlobalStewards.org
Well-being consultant, educator, writer ｜National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach ｜ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist ｜Lifestyle medicine advocate ｜25+ years in wellness ｜Jazz enthusiast.