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March 15 2020

How the National Environmental Health Association Is Walking the Talk on Climate and Health

By Madelyn Gustafson NEHA Project Coordinator, Program and Partnership Development,Natasha DeJarnett PhD, MPH, NEHA Interim Associate Director, Program and Partnership Development

Q: Share some recent ways that NEHA has been walking the talk on climate and health?

A: The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) was honored to join the International Federation of Environmental Health in celebrating World Environmental Health Day(WEHD) in September 2019. This partnership was built to raise global awareness about today’s most pressing environmental health concerns. The theme was “Climate Change Challenges, Time for Global Environmental Health to Act in Unison.” In the spirit of this event, NEHA developed a declaration on climate and health, held a Twitter chat, developed a toolkit, and demonstrated visible commitment by reducing its carbon emissions.

Q: How did NEHA reduce its carbon footprint for World Environmental Health Day?

A: NEHA reduced carbon emissions by holding its first-ever organization-wide telework day. All employees were encouraged to cut back on any unnecessary driving trips that day. Instituting a telework day was a great way to collectively participate by working from home and cutting back on vehicle carbon emissions for the day. A summary of NEHA’s effects was published in the March 2020 issue of the Journal of Environmental Health. NEHA’s commitment to a reduced carbon footprint didn’t just begin last year. In November 2018, NEHA signed a Declaration on 100% Clean Energy by 2030 through its partnership with Climate for Health to solidify the commitment to move toward more sustainable measures.

Q: What was the overall impact of this organization-wide telework day?

A: The results showed that the telework day saved over 650 pounds of CO2. This result had a positive impact not only on the environment, but also on NEHA’s employees. Allowing staff to have the option to work from home provided more work productivity instead of time used commuting to and from work. In one telework day, NEHA staff gained over 30 hours back into their day. As a result of this telework day, one employee mentioned, “My fiancé and I looked at our schedules and realized we can carpool once a week as a family. This helps the environment and we find ourselves spending more time together as a family during our 45-minute commute.”

Q: How did you calculate this reduction in carbon emissions?

A: To estimate the impact, NEHA conducted an emissions survey of staff. About 72% (26 out of 36) of NEHA staff participated in the survey. Employees answered a series of 10 questions about their morning and evening commutes to work, length of time spent in the car, and gas mileage of vehicles used. Employees who work remotely, take public transportation, biked, or walked to work also completed the survey, which accounted for about 19% (5 out of 26) of staff who responded.

Q: Will your association continue this effort in the future?

A: In addition to the WEHD telework day, Denver-based employees have the option to work remotely one day a week and Washington, DC, staff work remotely an average of four days a week. The estimated yearly CO2 emissions for one telework day per week for NEHA staff saved more than 34,000 pounds of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere—the equivalent to over 1,100 trees absorbing emissions. We are also planning an association-wide telework day for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in April 2020.

Q: How else does your association make a positive impact on environmental health?

A: Organizationally, NEHA works to advance environmental health professionals so that they can ensure healthy environmental for all. Beyond that, NEHA staff walk the talk on environmentally sound practices. In addition to staff teleworking, another large effort to reduce carbon emissions resulted from NEHA’s leadership in developing and leading out in several virtual conferences over the past couple of years; including a virtual vector conference in summer 2019. Virtual conferences reduce not only staff and attendee travel emissions, but also in-person event waste. This waste includes paper, food, and displays. Thinking outside the box on the means to facilitate these opportunities has allowed NEHA to expand the reach of its programs and resources with reduced impact to the environment.

NEHA calls on organizations to participate in similar activities to reduce their carbon emissions.

NEHA is a partner of Climate for Health, a coalition of health leaders committed to caring for our climate to care for our health. Founded by ecoAmerica, Climate for Health offers tools, resources, and communications to demonstrate visible climate leadership, inspiring and empowering health leaders to speak about, act on, and advocate for climate solutions. Learn more about the partnership and resources available to you here.

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