While the local health department has the priority of keeping its citizens safe from external health threats, there’s an unfortunate sense of irony in that the health sector emits a lot of carbon into the environment that can stimulate climate catastrophes that put citizens’ health at risk.
As COVID-19 made clear, there is an obvious need for prioritizing local public health. As the country continues to innovate on public health, there needs to be consideration towards sustainable best practices in the conversation as climate change and worsening air quality impact citizens’ health.
Here are some thoughts for reducing carbon emissions while improving public health.
Why Should Sustainability Matter to the Local Health Department?
The unfortunate reality is that the health sector accounts for over 8.5% of the United States’ total carbon emissions. Since these emissions result in worsening air quality and an increased influx of natural disasters, public health officials must consider the negative impact climate change can have on the health of their citizens.
Fortunately, your health department can prioritize sustainability in its day to day operations by making eco-friendly changes within the department, implementing government-wide sustainability best practices, and educating citizens on how climate change impacts their health and what they can do about it.
What Are the Negative Health Consequences of Not Embracing Sustainability?
Every region in the United States deals with consequential repercussions of carbon emissions. Many areas have challenges with the local air-quality, and horrific natural disasters impact every part of the country. To make matters worse, most Americans aren’t meeting recommended exercise standards and often newly elected government officials don't prioritize sustainability how they should.
Your health department needs to prioritize sustainability at the local level to:
1. Mitigate the Risk from Natural Disasters
While the entire world needs to take steps to tackle climate change, sustainability and resilience start at the local level. Health departments need to consider which climate issues pose the biggest risk to community public health (and especially for the most vulnerable) and take actions in tandem with other government departments to mitigate against natural disasters.
Here are helpful disaster mitigation resources for local governments:
- Local Government Disaster Preparedness Guide
- Tornado Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Wildfire Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Flood Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Landslide Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Winter Storm Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Disaster Resilient Infrastructure Guide
2. Reduce Local Air Pollution
IQAir’s World Air Quality Report 2022 found over 2,400 US cities reported a sharp increase in a harmful type of air pollution called PM2.5 in 2021. Americans nation-wide are breathing in harmful chemicals as a result of car-centric living and industrial waste. The World Health Organization specifies that “the specific disease outcomes most strongly linked with exposure to air pollution include stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, [and] pneumonia.
Local governments need to take action to reduce the usage of cars and hold local businesses accountable to use sustainable practices. Look into what GovPilot's Government Parking Management Software can do for car management and sustainability in your municipality.
3. Encourage Citizens to Exercise
Just 28% of Americans meet, “combined aerobic and muscle-strengthening guidelines,” according to the CDC. A lack of exercise can put citizens at higher risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, anxiety, stroke, and high cholesterol, among other health complications.
Considering ways to encourage citizens to exercise like building walking zones and bike lanes, constructing pickleball courts, and modernizing local parks is a key component of sustainable public health in your community, especially since it reduces the need to rely on carbon emitting cars.
How Can Public Health Departments Improve Local Sustainability?
Here are key actions for the local health department to take to make their communities more sustainable:
1. Move Health Forms to an Online Capacity
Health departments have traditionally needed to store thousands of paper documents, from health inspection reporting to health licenses and beyond. Now, all of the forms can be made accessible from your government website and automatically stored digitally.
Embracing cloud-based health department software, and encouraging other departments to embrace government software, will allow your local government to be more sustainable by going completely paperless.
Paperless government workflows can reduce car dependence too. Citizens no longer need to get in their car and drive to the clerk’s office or health department to file paperwork; all forms related to permit and licensing can be submitted from a remote location via a phone or computer.
2. Prioritize Health Equity
As explained by CNBC, “low-income communities already have higher rates of many health conditions, are more exposed to environmental hazards and take longer to bounce back from natural disasters.” People from vulnerable communities are statistically more obese and also more likely to be smokers.
Consider the ways your most vulnerable community-members are susceptible to health problems, and consider which specific sustainable practices would go the longest way in these neighborhoods. Streamlined health inspections would improve equity in your municipality by ensuring health standards be met in every neighborhood.
Learn more about Promoting Equity In Local Government here.
3. Strive for a 15-Minute City
The easier it is for citizens to get around by foot or on a bike, the more likely they will be to stop relying on their car. Making critical places in your city accessible within 15 minutes or less without a car will encourage citizens to be more active while simultaneously reducing the number of cars emitting gas into the air.
How Will E-Bikes Play a Role in Your Local Community? Here’s what to consider.
4. Increase Accessibility to Medical Sites
Improving local access to medical sites for COVID-19 and STD testing, vaccination, and pharmacies will reduce dependency on vehicles and improve health equity for citizens with limited means of transportation.
Consider options for opening more sites in various neighborhoods across your community, and be sure to highlight these medical sites on your local GIS map so that citizens know that testing, vaccinations, and medication are accessible nearby.
5. Make the Most of Parks and Public Spaces
Building and maintaining local parks and sports fields will encourage your citizens to be fit and active. Planting more trees will help to improve the local air quality.
Prioritize your parks and public spaces as an integral component of your sustainable health department strategic planning. Read on for a Modern Local Parks and Recreation Strategy and Tips for Managing Local Public Spaces.
6. Improve Local Public Transit
Local citizens won’t be reliant on their vehicles if they have access to high-quality public transportation options. Prioritize rail, bus routes, and other key public transit infrastructure in your community to further discourage the usage of cars and improve local accessibility.
Pay attention to advancements in electric vehicle infrastructure beyond cars. Advancements in the realm of electric buses and trains may be worth investing in in your community in the near future to reduce reliance on gas. Learn more about How Local Governments Can Embrace EV.
7. Educate Your Citizens About Sustainability
- The key reasons to prioritize exercise for better health and reduced usage of cars.
- Prioritizing responsible water usage to protect local water utilities and bodies of water.
- Invasive species to keep an eye on and kill as well as local endangered species to protect.
- How to properly recycle.
Keep citizens in the loop about infrastructure projects like parks and sports field improvements to encourage them to get out and exercise!
8. Encourage Businesses to Be More Sustainable
Energy, agriculture, and other key private-sector industries emit the most greenhouse gasses. Prioritize private-public sector partnership to work together on making your local community more sustainable, and build a modern code enforcement strategy that requires businesses to abide by sustainable, eco-friendly standards.
Here’s a helpful sustainable Government Community Agriculture Plan to consider.
9. Enforce Health Codes
When performing retail food inspections and other critical health inspections, be strict about proper waste disposal, equipment maintenance, etc. to hold businesses accountable for applying sustainable best practices.
Learn more about How Mobile Government Field Devices Can Transform Inspection Processes.
How Can Health Departments Pay for Improved Local Sustainability?
Federal and State Grant
Grant funds are putting dollars directly into local health departments to build and maintain health infrastructure. Look into funding options for making a digital government transformation and modernizing your physical infrastructure.
Keep in mind, other departments have access to grant dollars from bills such as the Infrastructure Investment and Job Act and the American Rescue Plan Act. Your health department can work with other departments to get key sustainable public health projects off the ground.
If you’re in New Jersey, explore these helpful NJDOH Grants for Local Health Departments.
Your Health Department Budget
Sustainable public healthcare should be a key priority in your local health department, and your public budget planning needs to reflect that.
If you’re working with a limited budget, consider government revenue sources like:
- Charging application fees for health licenses, pet licenses, and inspection requests with digital municipal fee and fine processing.
- Issuing fines for code violations from local businesses and citizens.
- Using improved walkability and public transit to boost local economic development.
- Auctioning vacant properties to repurpose the facilities
Are There Other Benefits to Sustainable Local Public Health?
Even beyond the reduction in your local health department’s carbon footprint, many of these sustainable best practices can benefit your community by:
- Saving time and money for government workers by becoming a paperless public agency with government technology.
- Online government data storage and simplified accessibility to all health department documentation with the government cloud.
- Increasing local economic development with improved community-wide accessibility via public transit and pedestrian zones.
- Increasing health equity and equity in general by prioritizing crucial sustainable efforts that have a community-wide positive impact, including low-income and minority communities.
Promoting Sustainability in the Health Department
Clearly, climate change and public health go hand in hand. Failure to address key environmental issues like natural disasters and worsening air pollution will leave community-members exposed to serious health threats.
Local health departments need to prioritize sustainability and health equity by moving away from paper-based workflows, embracing modern public spaces, transit and pedestrian zones, and by encouraging citizens to reduce car usage and get active. To learn more about how GovPilot government technology can help to achieve your health department sustainability goals and beyond, book a free demo.
Eco-Friendly Health Department FAQs
1. What is Sustainable Public Healthcare?
The health industry emits a substantial percentage of the United States’ carbon emissions. Sustainable public healthcare is the practice of local health departments prioritizing eco-friendly best practices to reduce car usage, mitigate against natural disasters, and encourage citizens to be active in an attempt to reduce their department and community’s carbon footprint to protect public health.
2. Why Do Local Health Departments Need to Be Sustainable?
Local health departments need to consider the threat that climate disasters pose for public health. Worsening air-quality, weak infrastructure, and car emissions can lead to sickness for your citizens, especially those in the most vulnerable groups. Health departments can take action themselves and work with other departments and citizens to promote a more sustainable and healthy community.
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- “How the U.S. Health Care System Contributes to Climate Change.” by Commonwealth Fund
- Increase in Global Disasters at Scale Globally by Vision of Humanity
- Air Pollution is Getting Worse by Everyday Health
- Exposure & Impact to Air Pollution Impact by World Health Organization (WHO)
- 75 Percent of Americans Aren’t Getting Enough Exercise According to CDC by Fox News
- Health Risks of an Inactive Lifestyle by Medline Plus
- Climate Change Will Hurt Poor People the Most by CNBC
- STD Treatment Online by Everylywell
- Bus Fleets Going Electric by GovTech
- Are Electric Trains the Future by GovTech
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Can the Private Sector Do Better by Policy Corner