In its simplest form, the design serves as a prompt for personal decision making: How early to arrive at the airport, what to eat, what clothes to wear, how to treat people or schedule time in the week—the answer should promote health in ourselves, our immediate circle, the wider community and ultimately the environment.
The Center for Healthy Air, Water, and Soil, now part of the University of Louisville, encourages citizen scientists to research the connections between human health and the health of the environment, including in area schools. In 2018, she gave a $5 million gift to the university to establish the Envirome Institute, housed in the university’s medical school. It’s founding director, Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar, is a pioneer in the field of environmental cardiology.
Health-based decisions are able to percolate through all of our institutions via the innate goodness of the average person, Mrs. Brown says. “That is probably the best model we have. When you look at the goodness of communities, sharing and caring are contagious.”
Nonprofit organizations, which are fueled by the devotion of individuals and have longevity based on the importance of their work in the lives of the community, are evidence of this power, she says.
“The not-for-profits of the world are, to me, the hearts and the souls of our respective communities—the good ones are completely bipartisan, not driven by economic class, completely democratic and egalitarian. They have jobs, volunteer jobs, for everybody. From licking envelopes or sweeping the auditorium all the way up to those who can give hundreds of thousands of dollars and speak directly to the people in Congress. You’ve got the whole spectrum, potentially the whole community represented.”
The challenge for corporations, the drivers of finance and wealth in our society, is to similarly see themselves as partners with that kind of concern and devotion to the health of society, she says, rather than as generators of wealth for a few.
“Corporations, when they’re doing their job really well, are keeping all of these forms of health in balance—not being driven entirely by finance in isolation. There’s growing awareness of that now, I think. Which is a good thing. But we have a long way to go.
“One of the things I’ve worked on with Prince Charles and Patrick Holden [Founding Director and Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust] and some other great leaders, was starting a rich conversation on ‘true cost accounting.’ What does it really cost to produce this pin? What is the true cost of a chicken?”
In the absence of such important questions, trust in big business has fallen dramatically.
“There is a rising dislike—and it’s turning into intense anger—against corporate America. And I say that as a person who believes strongly in the importance of corporations. I think of corporations, as being communities within communities. I believe in them, passionately.
“If our corporations don’t figure out where they’re out of whack and decide that they are going to be solution-makers together with their shareholders, their employees, the community, then we’re going to have some problems that are going to be much harder to solve.
“So the answers are potentially in the hands of obviously the corporate leaders, but also, in the hands of shareholders themselves. I believe that when shareholders are properly apprised of, and understand deeply enough, all aspects of their corporate responsibility—that is, that there are all these forms of health that they’re responsible for—then things will begin to change. When they begin to ask of each decision: Is this decision being made through the lens of health?”
Carlton Wilkinson is a Director in Brunswick’s New York office and the Managing Editor of the Brunswick Review.
Photographs courtesy of Christy Brown.