Consideration of the environment is integral to occupational therapy models and interventions, yet if we are not addressing the issue of climate change and the probable impacts on service users and ourselves, are we being truly holistic?
The World Federation of Occupational Therapists, College of Occupational Therapists and Swedish Association of Occupational Therapists have all produced papers exploring sustainable OT practice. The COT code of ethics encourages OTs to 'expand our clinical reasoning about occupational performance to include sustainable development', and service users can benefit from this incorporation of a sustainable healthful approach to practice.
Want some Sustainable Occupational Therapy Resources? Check out our resource map here.
What Is Sustainable Occupational Therapy?
Common occupations already explored by OTs with service users such as gardening, cooking, craft and exercise could all be viewed through a ‘sustainable lens’ and are known to promote psycho-emotional well being, often resulting in ‘peak’ or ‘flow’ experiences. The co-benefits to service users are likely to include better health awareness, cost savings and improved quality of life. A brief overview of sustainable occupational therapy practice is given in this consensus statement from a networking day at the COT.
There are also other ways that Occupational Therapists can utilise a ‘sustainable lens’. Smith (2015, p31) suggests that OT’s can:
- Raise awareness locally about sustainability with TLC (turn off, lights out, close doors and windows
- Use proactive prompting to decrease do not attends, and time waste by using technology e.g. text and email
- Monitor history of prescribed equipment to avoid duplication and reduce waste
- Allocate referrals to staff so they are clustered by geography to decrease waste from travel
- Introduce single MDT visits as a more efficient alternative to repeat home visits and equipment delivery
- Encouraging staff to accept suitable recycled equipment
- Ensure durability of equipment purchased and efficient collections to enable longer term recycling
- Address waste in time, travel, and cost
- Use social media as a tool to promote sustainable OT actions
- Promote the OT role in reducing challenging behaviour and PRN medication
Smith, G. (2015). Saving resources, Improving health. Occupational Therapy News, 23(1), 30-31.
How To Be A Sustainable Occupational Therapy Practitioner
The WFOT (2018) Sustainability Matters, Guiding principles for Sustainable Occupational Therapy Practice publication has outlined 5 principles for Sustainable Occupational Therapy practice:
- Principle 1: Understanding Sustainability - An Occupational Therapy Perspective. Occupational therapy practitioners shall be encouraged to educate themselves about issues of ecosystem sustainability as it impacts ability to pursue chosen meaningful occupations and subsequently human health and well-being.
- Principle 2: The role of Occupational Therapy in contributing towards mitigation of environmental damage due to unsustainable lifestyles. Occupational therapy practitioners shall work with interested service users and communities to help them explore ways of participating in healthy, meaningful occupations in such a way that they contribute towards mitigation of environmental damage due to unsustainable lifestyles.
- Principle 3: Helping Occupational Therapy service users adapt to the consequences of environmental damage due to unsustainability. Occupational therapy practitioners shall be encouraged to work collaboratively with service users to help them adapt to deleterious and health-impacting effects of environmental degradation due to unsustainable lifestyles so that they can continue to participate in meaningful occupations in a sustainable manner.
- Principle 4: Community sustainability in the face of environmental catastrophes. Occupational therapy practitioners shall be encouraged to develop competences for empowering communities to find ways of facilitating meaningful occupations in a sustainable manner among community members, taking into account the need to maintain equitability and occupational justice.
- Principle 5: Developing professional competence for administering occupation-based interventions to address sustainability issues. Occupational therapy practitioners shall be encouraged to develop and maintain competence in administering occupation-based interventions to help interested service users and communities address ecosystem sustainability issues.
OT Susnet started life in 2009 when Tamara Rayment, an occupational therapist who had seen what we were doing to create a community of people and practice in Green Nephrology, approached us with the determination to do the same in OT. Tamara worked with us entirely on a voluntary basis and helped the Green Occupational Therapy network to grow to over 250 people. Ben Whittaker joined her later that year and together they wrote papers, presented at conferences and created an energetic network.
Ben is now the lead on this specialty and works for CSH one day a week alongside his job as a mental health occupational therapist. The Occupational Therapy Sustainable Practice Network (OT Susnet) now numbers over 600 and is inspiring international accolades as well as local action. Ben is exploring the clinical reasoning underpinning sustainable OT practice*, as well as linking in with the College of Occupational Therapists, the World Federation of Occupational Therapists and research collaborators.
We would like to thank Tamara very much for her impetus to start the group and enthusiasm in developing it in the early years.
To read articles relating to sustainable occupational therapy and other areas of sustainable clinical practice please visit our publications page.
* Whittaker B (2012) Sustainable Global Wellbeing: a proposed expansion of the occupational therapy paradigm. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75(9) 436-439