Being in nature and looking after nature is good for both our physical and mental wellbeing. Sadly, neglecting our environment has created poor health and placed added demand on healthcare services.

It is estimated that air pollution alone shortens tens of thousands of lives in the UK each year. Additionally, climate change is already having significant effects on our health, with the poorest and most disadvantaged people suffering the most.

Health and social care itself has a huge carbon footprint. According to the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, the best way to improve patient care of any illness whilst reducing emissions, is to prevent it. This adds to the importance of health promotion activities and of proactively looking after our own health and wellbeing. You can find more information under Staying mentally well and Work-life balance.

According to the Environment Agency, a study of more than 19,000 people in England found that those who spent two hours or more a week in open green spaces were significantly more likely to report good health or high wellbeing.

Below you will find two sections. ‘Supporting our planet’ provides extensive advice for organisations as well as simple tips for individuals, to improve efficiencies and cut carbon emissions

‘Promoting health through green spaces’ provides evidence for the benefits of being in green spaces, as well as lots of local links.

National support

The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare engages healthcare professionals, patients and the wider community to understand the connections between health and environment and reduce healthcare’s resource footprint. 

Their work is guided by the principles of sustainable clinical practice:

  1. Prevention (see green space projects, includes the NHS Forest) 
  2. Patient empowerment and self-care
  3. Lean systems
  4. Low carbon alternatives (examples from many clinical specialties in their sustainable specialties programme).

The Social Care Institute for Excellence has a sustainable social care programme that looks at managing the risks of climate change to people and services.

The Greener NHS programme works collaboratively to build on the great work being done by trusts across the country, sharing ideas on how to reduce the impact on public health and the environment, save money and reach net carbon zero.

WWF has a calculator that allows you to work out your environmental footprint.

FutureLearn provides 20 top tips to reduce your carbon footprint. Simple things we can change can make a big difference, such as active travel, insulating our homes, eating more sustainable healthy food and recycling.

The Wheel of Wellbeing’s WoW Yourself section provides top tips for helping to care for the planet such as recycling more, leaving the car at home and better insulating homes.

Local support

Medway Council’s Climate Change Action Plan provides advice to plan your journey to net zero.

Kent County Council is committed to minimising its negative impact on the environment and supporting residents, businesses and visitors to do the same.

Kent Wildlife Trust looks after wild spaces, advises and teaches. You can get involved through membership or volunteering, joining in with projects to support campaigns and activities.

The Space to Breath study shows the value of NHS green space for staff wellbeing, including recommendations for practice. Many staff (44-52%) said attractive green spaces were important to them in considering where to work, suggesting this affects recruitment and retention.

Local support

West Kent Mind offers mindful walking and gardening groups in the Sevenoaks area.

Live Well Kent and Medway provides resources, support, groups and activities across Kent and Medway; including outdoor wellbeing, green care, loneliness, mental health.

Visit Kent provides details of outdoor spaces and activities in Kent and Medway including woodlands, beauty spots, forest bathing groups, ‘outdoor detox and wellness’, cycling and much more.

Find your local country park or open space in Kent or Medway.

Active Kent and Medway provides practical advice and resources for being active at work, being active with disabilities and long-term conditions, for active travel (cycling and walking), connecting with nature and tackling inequalities. You can find information on other outdoor activities such as gardening, walking, exercise groups through various links under loneliness, keeping active, personal development sections.

One simple way of living more sustainably is by considering the environmental impact of the food we eat. Food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to global warming, according to a study by the University of Oxford. 

Eating responsibly can be delicious, fun, cheap and healthy. There are many easy switches we can make, we can be mindful of what we are eating, and how it is produced. 

It can be difficult to know where to start, so NHS GP Dr Ishani Rao (spokesperson for EcoMedics and Plant-Based Health Professionals UK) has compiled some tips and resources. 

Eat seasonally and locally

We have all seen the packaging on many store bought products that are grown on one continent and packaged and sold on another. Buying fresh produce from your local market is often cheap, colourful and rewarding experience. One of the best things about grocery shopping at your local market is produce is often locally sourced and grown in season. This means carbon emissions from transport are reduced and less resources and energy is used too.

It's also a good idea to support small, independent shops and restaurants which use seasonal and local ingredients. You can easily check in advance with restaurants whether they use fruit, vegetables and spices which vary by season, or if they collaborate with local growers. The British Dietetics Association has put together a handy guide to seasonal fruit and vegetables.

Choose shops and products advocating for sustainability

It can often be difficult to find the time to go to markets and smaller shops, especially when you work during the day, so we acknowledge a large supermarket is sometimes more convenient.

The consumer group Which? has used data from annual reports looking at carbon emissions, plastic levels and food waste scores to create a useful table. Both Lidl and Waitrose score quite highly on the table, with Lidl being the more affordable of the two because of its efficient German business model. Asda comes in third, and M&S and Iceland score lowest on the table (M&S for plastic waste and Iceland for the high energy needed to freeze items.) 

Many supermarkets now offer loose vegetables and nuts, so remember to bring your own bags or jars. Some shops now offer 'wonky veg' which saves on waste from packagers throwing away good food. Choosing products certified as fair trade and organic is another indicator products will be better for environmental health compared to their non-labelled counterparts. 

Zero waste shops

Shops allowing you to bring your own jars, bags and boxes can be a fun experience. Oats, pastas, nuts, grains, cereals and spices are some of the basic items you can refill your containers with.

Bulk buying certain products less frequently is often the same price as buying smaller packages from supermarkets.

A great list of waste-conscious shops sorted by location is featured on the Eco Thrifty Living website

Grow your own

More and more people are growing their own produce. Gardening and caring for your own plants has been proven to have enormous benefits on both physical and mental health, reducing stress levels and improving your immune system. You don't have to have a huge garden either.

You can rent or share an allotment, utilise balcony space, or even windowsill spaces for plants. Local community allotments can assist you with developing green fingers or you can apply to set up your own allotment through the council. You could sign up to a regenerative or permaculture gardening course, either in person or online. 

Gardening subscription boxes such as Pot Gang make great gifts and are a good idea if you don't know where to start. A useful article by Garden Tech has been published regarding growing fruit and vegetables from scraps. 

Reduce food waste

According to the Government UK Food Security Report in 2021, 20 per cent of all food is wasted and the majority of this comes from households. However, statistics suggest this figure was significantly reduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, suggesting we are able to be more resourceful when we need to be. Meal prep is a great way to save money, cook healthy home meals and know exactly how much food you have to eat.

Pickling, drying, fermenting, and curing are all easy methods that you can use to make your food last longer, reduce costs and help your gut microbiome. There are a number of recipes online and YouTube tutorials about how to do this. Arranging your fridge by use-by dates and knowing what is in your fridge can be really helpful, so give it a thorough clean and organise it into sections. Apps such as Too Good To Go, Olio and Karma allow you to pick up surplus food from shops and neighbours, or to advertise if you have food to give away.

The Food and Agriculture Organisations of the United Nations have put together tips on how to make the most of food. 

Cut down on animal products

Plant-based products have a much lower carbon impact than those that contain meat and dairy. The animal agriculture industry produces more carbon emissions than the entire transport industry, including planes. We also know the largest contributor to ocean plastic is commercial fishing. Reports from the United Nations, from climate change departments and from Oxford University repeatedly state the benefits of reducing meat from our diets. Feeding and watering livestock can be deemed an inefficient step of the food chain contributing to huge amounts of water waste and deforestation. 

Individual health benefits are undeniable too, with huge studies showing a vegan diet improves life expectancy and quality of life by reducing chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and inflammatory conditions. Listen to a talk from Dr Ishani Rao regarding the benefits of a plant-based diet.

There are many alternatives available which more or less allow you to eat the same meals you normally would, but with vegan substitutes. Soya, tofu, tempeh, seitan, mycoproteins, lentils, mushrooms, jackfruit are some alternatives which replicate a meaty texture and absorb the flavours and spices you use for seasoning. For example, BOSH! have cheap, easy and healthy plant-based meal ideas.

Alternatives to dairy include oat, hemp, almond, hazelnut, soya and pea milks the production processes for these alternatives generally use less water, land and energy than for animal milk. It's easier to stick to making switches when you are aware of the poor conditions, hormone/antibiotic use and environmental implications of animal farming. Organisations such as Plant Based Health Professionals and Eco Medics can help to support you with making healthy and enjoyable dietary switches.