andrew-l-dannenberg2017 is the Year of Climate Change and Health, a 12-month APHA-led initiative with monthly themes related to the health impacts of climate change. December’s theme encourages cross-sector partnerships to #ActOnClimate. Today’s guest blogger is Andrew L. Dannenberg, MD, MPH, affiliate professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and co-chair of the American Institute of Architects Design & Health Leadership Group

The built environment, climate change and public health are interconnected, and partnering between health and non-health sectors to minimize the effects of climate change will have multiple benefits for all. In 2008, I co-authored an article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on the co-benefits of taking a health-centric approach to the design and development of our built environment.

We focused our paper on three interrelated sectors — transportation, buildings and land use. Each has significant impacts on both climate change and human health. And each offers substantial opportunities for cross-sector partnerships among architects, urban planners, engineers, local and regional governments, transportation designers, conservationists, public health professionals and others to drive innovative, integrated solutions.

Strategies, such as improved public transportation that reduce the number of cars on the road, have numerous public health benefits. Cutting vehicle miles driven reduces the number of fatal and nonfatal injuries from traffic crashes. The reduction in tailpipe emissions, and the smog they produce, has wide-ranging health benefits as well. Exposure to air pollutants is linked to everything from asthma hospitalizations to lung cancer to the prevalence of diabetes mellitus.

Implementing land use policies and practices that make our communities less car-dependent can enhance physical and mental well-being by promoting active transportation choices, such as walking and bicycling. The climate co-benefits begin to accrue immediately, as less driving means less CO2 entering the atmosphere.

Similarly, we can make our buildings healthier for occupants and the surrounding community — and reduce greenhouse gas emissions — by using sustainable materials for construction, prioritizing energy efficiency and utilizing interior and landscape designs that encourage physical activity and incorporate green space.

It’s important to note that vulnerable populations — including children, the elderly, disabled and people living in at-risk communities — are disproportionately affected by poor transportation, building and land use decisions. They also are most threatened by the effects of climate change and related health impacts, fueling the urgency to address these issues.

The good news is how far we’ve come building partnerships across disciplines at the national, regional and local levels. For example, the Promote Healthy Communities Joint Call to Action is a collaboration among eight national organizations representing nearly half a million architects, urban planners, landscape architects, developers, engineers and professionals from public health, parks and green building industry committed to working across professions to promote healthier, more equitable communities.

In 2014, the American Institute of Architects and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture launched the Design and Health Research Consortium that brings together university teams comprising schools of architecture, schools of public health and community partners. These teams conduct and disseminate peer-reviewed research, develop evidence-based practice tools and build understanding of the important link between our built environment and our health among policymakers and the public.

Progress has been intermittent since we outlined in our article the co-benefits of strategies that improve public health and combat climate change in the built environment. We can do more to actively pursue partnerships that enable us to promote health thinking in the built environment as a critical driver in turning the tide on climate change.

For other ideas on how you can talk about climate change while building more resilient and just communities, register for APHA’s Thursday workshop! “Climate Changes Health: Extreme Weather, Vulnerable Populations and the Many Benefits of Taking Action” takes place at APHA and via livestream on December 7 from 3-4:30 pm EST.