Connecting Well-Being and Sustainability

As people who are passionate about living sustainably, we often consider how our actions impact the environment surrounding us. What we can forget, however, is how engaging in sustainable behaviors have a positive effect on us as individuals, too. The health and well-being of humans is inseparable from the health of our surrounding environments, and the interactions between the two are complex. Using the U-M Model of Well-being as a guide, we can develop a broader understanding of how the choices we make to care for our planet are also steps to care for ourselves. Like sustainability, well-being is an ongoing pursuit that involves personal reflection, support from family and friends, and care from your community. Here are some ways we can connect sustainability to the eight dimensions of well-being:

Social Well-Being

In a large community such as the University of Michigan, pursuing our sustainability goals requires collective effort. By building community connections through attending sustainability related events, volunteering, or sharing information and news with friends, you can build a social network of individuals who share similar goals and values. Having this community as a support system when experiencing burnout or frustration is integral to prioritizing your personal well-being. When individual members of communities (small or large) are there for one another in various ways, it positively impacts the ability of that community to innovate and lead. To start getting involved in the sustainability community at U-M and beyond, attend EarthFest September 19th on the Diag!

Physical Well-Being

Alternative methods of transportation like biking, brisk walking, jogging, or even rollerblading are heart-pumping physical activities that can improve your cardiovascular health and get you to your location. If these methods of transportation aren’t accessible to you, being mindful about the environmental impact of your eating habits can also reduce your carbon footprint (and encourage you to fill up with nutritious foods!). Plant-based foods generally have a lower carbon footprint than animal-based foods, and they are packed with the vitamins, minerals, and proteins your body needs to support your physical well-being. Learn more about the connection between diet and the environment here.

Emotional/Mental Well-Being

Maintaining the vitality of our environment is not only beneficial to the physical health of humans, but also may help reduce feelings of stress that are common among Americans. Taking 20-30 minutes of your day to sit or walk in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature has been shown to significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. By collectively working towards a more sustainable future, we can hope to maintain our stress-busting natural environments. Read more about the effect of “nature pills” on stress here.

Environmental Well-Being

At its core, environmental well-being means being mindful of the space surrounding you (your bedroom, school, workplace, planet, etc.), how you are impacting that space, and how that space is impacting you. In the context of sustainability, focusing on your environmental well-being might encourage you to invest less in accumulating material goods, and invest more in having a space that brings you joy, comfort, and productivity. From Marie Kondo’s “KonMari method” to the Danish art of Hygge, popular messaging surrounding environmental well-being has shifted towards promoting a more minimalist lifestyle. While you may not be able to rid your space of everything that doesn’t spark joy, taking the time to donate excess clothes, take down unnecessary decorative lights, or cut back on the amount of “things” you collect are all sustainable choices that can allow you to create a decluttered and stress-free environment. 

Spiritual Well-Being

Spiritual well-being is how you understand and make meaning of what happens to you, and what your mind goes to when in need of comfort or relief. There is an association between a stronger spiritual orientation and increased levels of connectedness to nature and nature exposure. For some individuals, being in nature may provide a sense of comfort or relief that is linked to spirituality, and for others, spirituality may be a way to find meaning within everyday activities like sitting outside. Regardless, our natural environments provide a site for reflection and mindfulness, and our commitment to living more sustainably can help to maintain the ecosystems we know and love. Find U-M and community resources for practicing mindfulness and prioritizing your spiritual well-being here.

Intellectual Well-Being

Information regarding the state of our environment is constantly developing, and there are always opportunities to find out how you can live more sustainably. The work you put in as an individual to read scientific articles, attend lectures on sustainability, or go to local government meetings promotes your intellectual well-being, and it allows you to disseminate factual information to others. Learning how to make informed decisions on an individual and community level is a key component in creating environmental changes that are positive and impactful. For an introduction to sustainability at U-M and how you can help out, take the Planet Blue Ambassador training.

Financial Well-Being

Many sustainable behaviors can save you money and reduce some of the stress associated with finances. For example, sealing up any air leaks in your house or apartment can save you 10-20% on your heating and cooling bill, thrifting allows you to find inexpensive clothing that avoids the environmental impact of buying new, and using a reusable water bottle can save you an average of $266 worth of plastic water bottles per year.

Occupational Well-Being

In order to create a more sustainable environment at work, you can participate in the Sustainable Workplace programs, start a monthly sustainability meeting with colleagues, or host a Planet Blue Ambassador group training. By taking these actions, you can create a set of shared goals within your work environment that can boost team and individual morale! No matter what career you are pursuing, there are many ways to get involved in sustainable initiatives within the workplace.

As you continue to make sustainable choices, be mindful of how those choices impact your individual well-being! You can explore the dimensions of well-being and more U-M resources here.