What happens when children receive a sustainability-infused education that begins in preschool, where a strong sense of environmental stewardship permeates national culture? Citizens develop a profound affinity — and sense of responsibility — for the natural world. Hats off to Sweden.
Public education in this Nordic nation integrates environmental science with other subjects, beginning in preschool. According to an NBC news story, students aren’t simply fed the facts; they’re taught to think critically about the issues and related politics. Sustainable living is practiced in school routines, such as composting lunch scraps and removing shoes at the door to reduce the need for harmful chemical cleaners.
In Sweden, 80% of the population lives within 3 miles of a national park or nature preserve; 33% are active in outdoor recreation, getting out at least once a week for the past year. These facts alone shine a light on another likely source of the Swedes’ fierce drive to protect the planet; they experience a deep connection to the natural world in everyday life.
Not all Swedes agree about strategies, policies, and money involved in implementing eco-conscious efforts, but their systematic, widespread attention to climate science is striking — and inspiring. In reading about it, you sense an enduring national understanding that living and working sustainably is a necessity, not an option.
What would it take to foster a united sense of environmental responsibility — and urgency — in this country? In your state or province, town, neighborhood, or workplace?
We know that eco-responsible supply chains and processes are good for business. But what does sustainability have to do with employee well-being?
Everything. In a recent American Journal of Health Promotion webinar, Dr. David Katz summed it up well: There are no healthy people on a ruined, ravaged planet. Let that sink in. It’s no secret that we’re already feeling the heat (pardon the pun).
When 100 companies are responsible for 70% of the world’s carbon emissions, solving climate change problems requires a massive effort that goes far beyond sustainable living at the individual and workplace level. But as well-being pros, we’re in a prime position to make a dent in it by encouraging workers to take action. You could even spark a ripple effect; getting workers fired up about sustainable living could lead to deeper community involvement and change on a larger scale.
Take the bull by the horns this year and make sustainable living a well-being program priority:
- Explore the possibilities. Find ways to tie eco-friendly systems and behaviors to personal benefits; seek ways to support other functions’ efforts.
- Communicate in ways that make the message relatable; avoid touchy-feely Mother Earth language and stick with the science and practical applications; emphasize clean air, clean water, and savings. Explain specific reduce/reuse/recycle behaviors to adopt, with visuals to show the collective impact.
- Encourage outdoor recreation. Focus on fun opportunities in national, state, and local parks. Highlight different seasonal sports, with how-to and where-to information. Invite employees to share their adventure stories. Sponsor sports and fitness activities outside.
- Foster civic engagement. Challenge your population to make their voices heard by getting involved in their communities and connecting with candidates/elected officials.
The health of the planet and personal well-being are inextricably linked. If you haven’t already, it’s time to get your people aboard the green wave and adopt sustainable living practices as a vital part of their healthy lifestyle — just like physical activity, good nutrition, and other elements.
Launching fall 2020: Sustain — a tailored experience to help your participants take daily action toward this crucial wellness issue. For updates, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dean Witherspoon is CEO and founder of HES and has been the managing editor of the Well-Being Practitioner (formerly the Health Promotion Practitioner) since 1992. He leads the most creative team in wellness, serving organizations worldwide with best-in-class workplace wellness campaigns.