Here at Centre for Thriving Places, we were delighted to see that the theme of the recent World Health Day was Our Planet, Our Health. It resonated because the annual World Health Organisation (WHO)’s 2022 awareness day invited us to imagine a world ‘where economies are focused on health and wellbeing’ as well as the health of the planet, a call we wholeheartedly endorse. That’s because we share the demand for a shift towards a more holistic understanding of human wellbeing – because it’s one that recognises the necessity of protecting the ecosystems on which we all depend and repositions the economy as a tool to achieve this rather than undermine it.
One of the ways that World Health Day has characterised this shift is in terms of ‘sustainable wellbeing’. Emerging in the field of education, sustainable wellbeing conceptualises the conviction that human wellbeing is linked with environmental and social sustainability – that we cannot thrive if our communities, societies and ecosystem are not also thriving. This isn’t a new idea – it has been a fundamental element of many indigenous cultures, forms part of scholarly traditions such as deep ecology, and for many of us it just feels like common sense. It is also represented in our Thriving Places Index, with its sustainability and equality elements given equal prominence with the local conditions for wellbeing. However, its emergence as an educational approach and its accessibility and simplicity make sustainable wellbeing a particularly useful concept.
One of the strengths of this campaign is to focus on the wins of sustainable wellbeing approaches – creating a compelling case that they are common-sense, efficient and desirable. This is hard for supporters of the status quo to dismiss as scaremongering or pie in the sky. For example, the World Health Day homepage highlights the global tragedy of 13 million deaths each year as a result of ‘avoidable environmental causes’. The implication is that we need to stop global heating to minimise the spread of diseases as well as the other effects of climate change and that reducing our reliance on fossil fuels will benefit human lungs as well as climate goals.
World Health Day has not only provided a campaign toolkit promoting the actions individuals can take but also a list of actions for governments, businesses and mayors to commit to, amplifying the effect beyond the individual. And what’s at the top of the list for governments? ‘Prioritise long-term human wellbeing and ecological stability in all decision-making.’ Yes please!
We are delighted to be working with some of the local and national governments at the vanguard of this vital shift, such as the North of Tyne combined authority and Bristol’s City Funds programme. Given the immense health and environmental challenges we are facing, the negative effect on human wellbeing everywhere and our proximity to environmental tipping points of potentially no return, we urgently need to scale up this work like never before.
It’s not too late to get involved in World Health Day actions. There’s a host of compelling video content linking environmental and health priorities (such as the health impacts of wildfires), an online film festival and Healing Arts Event too. With the local elections just around the corner, try contacting your elected representatives, using the World Health Day resources and the examples on our website, and asking them to take an active role in the shift to a sustainable wellbeing economy.