Last week I had the privilege to help lead a gathering in Boston that convened many of the city’s leading hospitals and community care organizations. Organized by Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, in collaboration with Healthcare Without Harm and National Geographic, the workshop introduced participants to the benefits of shifting their food sourcing policies in favor of sustainable and local sources. We discussed how this supports the missions of these institutions to promote wellness and how it can positively affect profitability. Hospital dining services are challenged with following strict dietary outlines for their patients while also serving a large number of staff and visitors. In balancing the wants and needs of both constituencies, hospitals have an opportunity to set an example of healthier and more sustainable eating.
National Geographic’s involvement in this project is about engaging new audiences on the importance of a healthy and productive ocean. The medical and community care sectors are a natural partner for this message as they have a large constituency looking to them for advice on health and diet. This is also a wonderful opportunity to partner with our friends at the Harvard Medical School to help bring awareness to medical practitioners, hospitals, and community caregivers of the connection between a healthy ocean and a healthy population.
We were thrilled to learn that many of the participants have already begun projects to introduce sustainable and local foods as part of their mission to provide health to their communities. Some of the institutions made commitments to ongoing work and are investigating how they can continue to make progress within their purchasing practices and in communicating the importance of this work with their clients as part of an overall wellness strategy within the community.
Beyond the for-profits, this work is being enthusiastically supported by non-profit food banks and community care providers who have not traditionally seen themselves as having a voice in this arena. At the end of the day, the problems we seek to address in the sustainability conversation are the responsibility of us all. We’re all consumers and we’re all polluters, therefore we all have the opportunity to participate in the restoration of the economies and ecosystems that support us. It is vitally important that we use health to bridge a dialogue of sustainability practices with all members of our community as sustainable foods—foods that sustain us and are responsible to our environment—are essential and a right for all people.
This is but one part of National Geographic’s work to expand the constituency of professional organizations and individuals who see ocean conservation as vital and necessary to achieving their own missions. All too often conservation is dictated as separate and in contrast to our everyday lives, but its purpose speaks to the very heart of everything we do for work, everything we do for play, and everything we do to maintain our future in this planet.
Special thanks to the Leon Lowenstein Foundation for supporting this breakthrough initial phase of engagement.