Working together to create a sustainable future for all to INHERIT
Caroline Costongs, Director of EuroHealthNet (the European Partnership for Health Equity and Wellbeing), advocates linking better health and reduced inequalities with climate initiatives, in what she describes as a ‘triple-win’ approach. She draws on the outcomes of the EU-funded INHERIT initiative, which held its final conference on 10 December 2019.
Why link the environment and equity with health?
The climate and ecological crises pose a grave threat to public health. Tackling them is urgent and will require governments, businesses, communities and individuals to make changes. The health sector, too, has a key role to play, not only by greening healthcare systems, but also by seizing this opportunity to work together to enable and encourage sustainable, healthy behaviour change.
We must also recognise that people facing socio-economic disadvantages will be the hardest hit by climate change, and benefit the least from measures taken to address it. The INHERIT initiative has spent four years analysing the links between health, environment and equity, and is now calling for an integrated ‘triple-win’ approach to tackle interconnected environmental and social challenges: reduce environmental impacts, improve health, and increase health equity.
How can these changes really be instigated?
Things will only change when everyone is on board. We need to encourage communities to take action, for instance, by providing them seed funding and political support.
Take for example the Food Garden in Rotterdam, a community garden that provides organic food for lower-income families. Staffed by volunteers, it uses a hybrid business model (with funding from private, collective and public sources). It makes a positive impact in many ways: it provides job training and helps unemployed people to re-enter the job market, produces healthy, sustainable food, and greens up an urban area. This bottom-up approach is vital for change, and should be encouraged and supported urgently and at a large scale, from local to EU-level.
The Food Garden is just one initiative INHERIT looked at: it conducted in-depth analyses of 15 ‘triple-win’ case studies in 12 countries, looking at sustainable and healthy living (green space, energy efficiency), moving (active transport) and consuming (production and consumption of food). The lessons we learned can help policymakers adopt an integrated approach, link budgets and align legislation to spark action.
Can individuals do anything?
Absolutely! Nothing is too small to be a big help. The individual choices people make can help us transition to more sustainable societies. But it is crucial not to blame people for their current behaviour. We all know it is hard to change: we need to have the motivation, capability and opportunity to do so. Deciding to do things differently can be harder for less well-off and vulnerable people, who are often ‘locked-into’ their day-to-day circumstances. Policymakers can help by creating social and physical environments that make it easier for people to adopt positive changes. We also need to make it attractive and affordable to enjoy healthy, sustainable food, green spaces and active transport.
Leading EU, national and local policymakers, researchers, and economists discussed these topics at INHERIT’s final conference. It is now time to back those words with urgent action and create a sustainable world that can indeed by inherited by generations to come.
Activities at EU level
European Commission – Health and Food Safety
Key insights were given on how the Commission, Parliament and Member States will deliver integrated measures to reach the Sustainable Development Goals and the INHERIT ‘triple-win’, how municipalities are implementing innovative solutions and whether ‘growth’ is sustainable.
How can you contribute to the ‘triple-win’ and help create a more healthy, fair and sustainable future? Check out these ideas – and share them!
In this series of policy briefs, the INHERIT initiative provides guidance on three critical areas at the heart of sustainable change: integrated governance, behaviour change, and health equity.
The lessons for good practice draw on 15 INHERIT case studies, and aim to support governmental and non-governmental actors, practitioners and researchers working across sectors to achieve mutual benefits for health and environmental sustainability, and in particular to benefit poorer and more socio-economically disadvantaged groups.
INHERIT presents four positive scenarios of what Europe could look like in 2040. Learn more about how they developed the future 2040 scenarios by reading their “Reaching the Triple-Win” report and discover the sustainable lifestyles of Adam, Tereza, Milan and Isabella.
The INHERIT Model is a tool to help systemic thinking for integrated governance. It helps understand how multiple drivers impact on the environment, both “here and now” in the places in which we live, and “there and then”, in the broader ecosystem and on future generations.
Over 100 promising practices across the areas of living (green space, energy efficiency), moving (active transport) and consuming (sustainable production and consumption of food) are brought together in an INHERIT database.
The Communication on the next steps for a sustainable European future, presented by Vice-President Timmermans, encompasses the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, as well as governance, within the EU and globally.
This report uses 19 inequality indicators on urban, housing and working conditions, basic services and injuries to look at the inequalities the exist in all WHO European Region countries. Evidence confirms that the most socially disadvantaged are those most affected by environmental hazards.
In its report on ‘Accelerating Climate Action: Refocusing Policies through a Well-being Lens’ (Sept 2019) the OECD focuses on the need to reframe overarching policy objectives in the areas (amongst others) of transport, food, and energy.
“At the heart of it is our commitment to becoming the world's first climate-neutral continent. It is also a long-term economic imperative: those who act first and fastest will be the ones who grasp the opportunities from the ecological transition. I want Europe to be the front-runner.”
Health Programme Projects
EuroHealthNet focuses on improving health and reducing health inequalities through action on the socio-economic and environmental determinants of health, integrating sustainable development goals, and contributing to the transformation of health systems.
The main aim of the project is to improve the health and well-being of EU citizens and achieve greater equity in health outcomes by focusing on socio-economic determinants of health inequalities related to lifestyle. Priority is given to migrants, who can have problems accessing health services.
CHRODIS PLUS unites 42 partners, representing 21 European countries, who collaborate to implement pilot projects and generate practical lessons in the field of non-communicable disease.