The field of behavioral eco-wellness investigates the choices, behaviors, and habits that contribute to both personal health and environmental sustainability. Eco-wellness can be defined as “living life to maximize health, happiness, and environmental sustainability.”  Fortunately, many of the same behaviors that bring mental and physical health also support ecological health (co-benefits). For example, walking or biking rather than driving—or using stairs rather than elevators—support physiological and psychological integrity, and at the same time reduce one’s carbon footprint and other downstream harms resulting from fossil fuel based transportation. Similarly, eating plant-based foods rather than animal products brings a number of health benefits, and helps to reduce environmental harms caused by the animal food industry. Although traveling, overeating, and purchasing can bring short-term pleasure rewards, these are often followed by periods of dissatisfaction or “let down” that can lead to the desire for more travel, overeating, or purchasing. Evidence suggests that enhancing awareness of physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors through mindfulness training can lead to greater health and happiness, and perhaps to lifestyles having fewer negative environmental impacts. The Mindful Climate Action program at the University of Wisconsin seeks to  harness the power of mindfulness training to help people achieve health and sustainability co-benefits . Two pilot studies have been completed, and a randomized controlled trial is planned. Outcomes assessed include: 1) minutes and miles of walking, biking, driving, and flying, 2) calories ingested from plant- and animal-based foods, 3) household consumption of gas, electricity, and water, and 4) self-reported health (physical and mental), physical activity, sleep quality, fatigue, mindful attention, and happiness. This work challenges the assumption that health and happiness require massive fossil fuel inputs, and also opens the field of behavioral eco-wellness to further research and development.

Bruce Barrett, MD, PhD

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Convening Faculty, Planning Committee Member

Bruce Barrett is Professor and Vice Chair for Research in Family Medicine and Community Health (DFMCH) at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  Following M.D. and Ph.D. (Anthropology) degrees in … MORE