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.
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.
Sustainable Occupational Therapy Practice: Resource Map
If you would like to learn about sustainable healthcare and sustainable Occupational Therapy practice, these are the key learning materials to get you started. If you think there are any resources that could be developed or added please get in touch Vivien De Greef or Ben Whittaker.
The Climate Emergency
If you would like to find out more about the planetary health emergency and what you can do to take action check out our climate emergency page. This is filled with tips and ideas of actions you can take, as well as links to further reading.
What Is Sustainable Healthcare
Sustainable Healthcare can be defined as ‘care delivered in a way that does not adversely affect the health of the population and does not use resources in a way that may compromise the ability of those in the future to provide high quality care to their population or increase the burden of illness’ (Centre of Sustainable Healthcare 2017). Find out more about Sustainable healthcare and how we can achieve it by watching this presentation by Rachel Stancliffe (Director of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare).
- What is sustainable health?
- Learning objectives for sustainable healthcare
- Managing the health effects of climate change
Sustainability In Occupational Therapy
OT Susnet is a network for occupational therapy practitioners, students, and educators who are interested in sustainable practice. By registering to the Occupational Therapy Susnet network (it’s free!) you can gain access to valuable resources, write posts and start a conversation about sustainable occupational therapy practice.
Click here to register and stay up to date with the latest sustainable occupational therapy news.
Occupational Therapy Sustainability National and International Association papers
- World Federation of Occupational Therapists - Sustainability Matters: Guiding Principles for Sustainability in Occupational Therapy Practice, Education and Scholarship
- World Federation of Occupational Therapists – Ethics, Sustainability and Global Matters
- World Federation of Occupational Therapists - Environmental Sustainability, Sustainable Practice within Occupational Therapy
- Royal College of Occupational Therapists – Code of Ethics and Professional Standards
- Swedish Association of Occupational Therapists – Sustainable Development
Sustainable Occupational Therapy Journal Articles:
- Occupational Therapy and Environmental Sustainability
- A call for sustainable practice in occupational therapy
- Sustainable occupational responses to climate change through lifestyle choices
- How to contribute occupationally to ecological sustainability: A literature review
- Sustainable Global Wellbeing: A Proposed Expansion of the Occupational Therapy Paradigm
- Future proofing occupational therapy in mental health through sustainable commissioning
- Quality Improvement: creatively designing sustainable services
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.
Key OT Susnet Posts
- 10:10 Occupational Therapy Checklist
- Sustainability Series: Occupational Therapy: Improving Lives, Saving Money, Reducing Carbon
- 5 ways to integrate sustainability into your 2018 Occupational Therapy practice
- Want to be an eco warrior in your hospital or team?
* Whittaker B (2012) Sustainable Global Wellbeing: a proposed expansion of the occupational therapy paradigm. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75(9) 436-439