Creating Equitable Health Outcomes for All — Part 1

Creating Equitable Health Outcomes for All — Part 1

There’s no denying that every system in the United States is inequitable. Health disparities in BIPOC communities are highly prevalent and have become even more apparent during the pandemic. The IWBI Health Equity Advisory is leading a multi-faceted strategy tapping into the expertise of the WELL community to identify and scale strategies that address global health inequities in buildings, businesses, and communities. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, health equity means increasing opportunities for everyone to live the healthiest life possible, no matter who we are, where we live, or how much money we make. Here are four things that must be done to create equitable, affordable, and accessible health outcomes for all.

Fair access to COVID-19 resources, vaccination, and care

COVID-19 has highlighted the systemic disparity and disproportionate access to healthcare that under-represented communities endure. As of 2018, BIPOC were more likely than whites to forgo needed medical care because of the cost.

“What’s most important is that trusted community sources step up and activate to increase education and access to COVID-19 vaccinations within BIPOC communities,” says Kimberly Lewis, Co-Chair of the IWBI Health Equity Advisory, former Senior Vice President for market transformation and development in North America at the U.S. Green Building Council, and the 2011 receiver of the prestigious White House Champion of Change for Clean Energy award.

She notes that faith communities play a vital role in debunking COVID-19 myths. “I’m proud to see churches as vaccination sites and also providing food and support during the pandemic.”

Clean, potable water for all

The lack of access to potable water contributes gravely to health disparities within the United States. Lewis recently joined the board of Elevate Energy which launched programs in five Midwestern cities to address equitable access to affordable and clean water in BIPOC and aging communities. Over 42 percent of non-elderly individuals living in the States are BIPOC.

Lewis summarizes the research Elevate Energy recently published in their report, Water Affordability in Northeastern Illinois: Addressing Water Equity in a Time of Rising Costs — “Elevate has found that energy and water burdens affect frontline communities the most,” Lewis says. “The main challenges are an aging water infrastructure in need of replacement, sharp decline in federal support, population changes as immigrant communities shift out of insecurity, and rising input costs.”

She notes that there’s a disproportionate burden of higher bills in non-white majority and senior population areas. To resolve this ongoing crisis, Lewis suggests that health and human services assistance programs must “address resident sensitivity to the implications of water shut-offs in health, dignity, and respect.” From her work with Elevate Energy, she believes that a long-term strategy should be developed by bringing utilities, water advocates, and focus groups together to analyze challenges, research the impact of water debt, and identify where the burden continues to exist.

City planning should focus on community health

To create equitable health outcomes for all, cities and buildings must address inequities in the system that hinder sustainable communities. “Since the 19th century, and exacerbated by redlining in the 20th century, cities systematically under-invested in BIPOC communities, with few trees, and paved over green spaces with impervious tracts of low-cost asphalt,” Lewis says. “That leads to flooding, air pollution, and extreme summer heat.”

As city surfaces are dark (such as rooftops and parking lots), cities can be at least 10 degrees hotter in the summer, especially in low-income and minority neighborhoods. This leads to extreme heat, which is the leading cause of weather-related death in the States—more than natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes. “Disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable community members, heat extremes are particularly deadly in densely populated urban centers,” Lewis says.

“These patterns of urban inequality imposed on the most vulnerable populations damage the health and upward mobility of a large part of society. Our pathway forward towards removing these systemic barriers and creating restorative communities can be solutioned by addressing this environmental injustice,” Lewis says.

Lewis points to individuals and organizations leading efforts to reduce and eliminate these systemic inequities, like the work David Bowers is doing at Enterprise Community Partners and the Smart Surfaces Coalition. Through David’s work at Enterprise, he has spearheaded various initiatives such as: GreenPath (initiative preserving affordable and green housing near transit nodes) and D.C. Green Communities Initiative (seeking to institutionalize sustainable and equitable practices).

Prioritize Green Building

After leaving USGBC, Lewis founded Havenz Network, launching her own consulting company where she will continue her work in equity, sustainability, and the healthy building movement. As discussed in her self-published article, Revival of Green, Lewis states that the broader sustainability and healthy building movement can support a just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive future by reforming and reviving the entire industry governance structure. Lewis has found that although the sustainability industry was founded to be an ‘epicenter of healing and building bridges for community’ it needs to repair what’s broken. “We can design and operate better by re-forming the leaders of the sustainability industry,” she says.

Performative alliances aren’t making a difference in green building—or anywhere else. “Structural and institutional racism has resulted in a deep lack of diversity amongst sustainability professionals that is reflected across the industry,” Lewis says. Instead, she hopes leaders from the communities being served will lead sustainable strategies.

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How to Avoid Greenwashing in Wellness

How to Avoid Greenwashing in Wellness

There’s a plethora of confusing marketing jargon in the wellness industry that leaves customers confused and falling victim to purchasing not-quite-as-they-seem products. One of the most jarring aspects of ill-intentioned marketing is greenwashing—a branding trick that uses keywords associated with genuinely sustainable products to fool customers into believing the offering is more eco-friendly than it is. Greenwashed brands are tapping into the ever-growing trend of sustainability without evidence of their so-called green credentials. It can be challenging to know what red flags to look for when trying to decipher if your wellness purchase is truly sustainable. Here’s how to avoid greenwashing in wellness.

The wellness industry is all about encouraging folks to use natural products that will improve their quality of life. If a product touts green claims such as organic, all-natural, cruelty-free, and biodegradable but only provides vague information to support the claims, it’s likely clever greenwashing. Truly eco-conscious wellness brands will back up any claims about their sustainable practices by clearly outlining the company’s eco standards. They may also have carbon offsetting programs and charitable foundations.

Any product can say that it’s been made with organic ingredients as long as just one of the ingredients is organic. The same applies to products that claim they’re plant-based, all-natural, or grass-fed. If you can’t comprehend the ingredient list DM the company on social media asking them to explain exactly what is in the item and to verify whether or not all ingredients are organic, natural, or vegan. It’s also worth keeping in mind that cruelty-free is only about animal testing, it doesn’t imply that the product was made ethically nor does it assure that your purchase didn’t exploit workers.

In addition to confirming the ingredients, take into consideration the packaging of the product. Biodegradable packaging is a common form of greenwashing as not many of us have the industrial machinery needed at home to break down the biodegradable materials. A better option is compostable packaging that clearly states how long it takes to degrade in an at-home compost.

To avoid greenwashing, look for wellness brands that are authentically environmental stewards and that provide clear sustainability policies outlined on their website with a detailed FAQ explaining how the product is sourced, created, packaged, and shipped. Consider the distance the wellness product has to travel to arrive at your doorstep. It doesn’t do much good if something is truly made sustainably and eco-friendly but the packaging produces excess carbons from long-distance shipping. Many eco-conscious brands will utilize carbon-neutral shipping options from UPS and DHL.

The most assured way to feel confident that you’re making a truly eco-conscious purchase is to shop from wellness brands that have been vetted by a third-party organization such as certified Fair Trade, Fair Tax Mark, Certified Humane, or B-Corp. Third-party clean certifications include Leaping Bunny, COSMOS EcoCert, EWG Verified, and MyMicrobiome. The brands that have received this accreditation after meeting the rigorous criteria will proudly display the logo of the third party on their packaging or website.

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