Sara Peacock, Tracy Evans, Debbie Worland and Richard Lewis talk about this new sustainable development resource, on behalf of Public Health Wales’ Health and Sustainability Hub

In Wales, we are responding to our Well-being of Future Generations Act by ‘doing’ sustainable development to tackle and mitigate against global public health challenges including poverty, health inequalities and climate change.

As part of Public Health Wales’ participation in the JAHEE (Joint Action on Health Equity Europe) programme, we have produced the ‘Step Change for a Sustainable Planettoolkit to support global organisations to implement the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For organisations in Wales, the resource is aimed at contributing to the seven well-being goals in our Well-being of Future Generations Act.

However, we appreciate that not everyone is familiar with this concept of ‘sustainable development’. So, in the toolkit we have taken the time to set out background information covering the global and Welsh goals, advocating for a ‘health in all policies’ approach to protecting our home planet, and considering the impact of COVID-19, which emerged whilst we were writing the material.

We also wanted to give a flavour of what others are doing by including case studies across the recognised five levels for sustainable change (country, system, organisation, team and individual). We have profiled countries: USA, Finland, Ecuador, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, alongside Wales; and Welsh organisations: Welsh Government, Public Health Wales and Brecon Beacons National Park Authority.

No toolkit would be complete without showcasing a range of helpful resources, and we have looked at the United Nations, Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, and Public Health Wales.

We developed the toolkit to be a highly practical resource that local and global organisations can use to play their part in urgently creating a sustainable planet for current and future generations. As global citizens, we are witnessing how the multiple challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and COVID-19 are affecting human health and the health of our planet, and widening the inequalities and injustices which we were already tackling before the pandemic. In this light, we hope that this resource will help to encourage renewed efforts to deliver the global goals.

Importantly, the toolkit illustrates that whilst COVID-19 is having some negative impacts on the global goals, it is also possible to promote a sustainable ‘green’ recovery by building on the positive behaviours which we experienced in the early stage of the pandemic. For example, cleaner air and increased engagement in nature and our local communities. Of course, the pandemic has changed the workplace and many of us are continuing to work from home or agilely, and the full impact of this on corporate carbon footprints needs further research.

The thing that struck us the most as we pulled together the material was the interconnectedness of the global issues. At first, it makes everything seem so overwhelming; there is so much to address so where do we start? And it’s all so complex; how can we see a clear pathway through it all?

Helpfully, the Health and Sustainability Hub’s e-catalogue of resources, including the literature review on ‘doing’ sustainable development, provided the perspective that we can’t fix everything all at once, but we can each do whatever we can. This can depend on our roles within our organisations. For example:

  • as a team member I can make small changes in my working day such as stopping printing;
  • as a team leader I can work with team colleagues on ideas for more sustainable service-delivery;
  • as a facilities manager I can source renewable energy and support biodiversity, and
  • as an executive leader I can embed sustainability in the culture of the organisation including its services and policies.

Whatever our roles and responsibilities, we can all bring about positive change!

For example, the Hub’s range of ‘Be the Change’ e-guides is based on the idea that we all can (and should) take sustainable steps, no matter how small, during the working day through a wide-range of actions which support our organisations’ response to climate change. Positive actions spanning travel, energy, waste, food, procurement, and supporting wildlife are covered.

We’ve had positive early feedback on this toolkit, including from NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership: Procurement Services, who have added the resource as a ‘useful link’ in their Procurement Manual to help focus people’s minds on the areas they need to consider when buying goods and services sustainably for their health organisations.

As our focus turns to the global significance of COP26, whatever your organisational role, please take a moment to interact with the toolkit and its linked resources to find inspiration. Please share it with others, and contact the Health and Sustainability Hub if you have any questions or suggestions.

Remember, organisations are a collection of people, like you and I, and we can all make positive changes, however small they may feel! By working together across teams and boundaries, we can do even more. This is the time to act!

Together, we can ‘Be the Change’!

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