Health by Design

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation By Design framework

The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation by Design framework

At Greenleaf Communities we focus on Health by Design – designing and implementing strategies that alleviate primary causes of illnesses associated with the environment.  It is modeled in part after Conservation by Design that is a proven approach to conservation practices world-wide as implemented by The Nature Conservancy and others.  Our primary focus is on the interdependencies between environmental health and human health.  Preventing illness by alleviating its environmental sources is central to our work.  Why prevention? Because ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ as our mothers would say.  Prevention gets at the root cause of the problem before it manifests into disease; and the scientific community is constantly advancing their understanding of the associations between environmental influences and health.  At Greenleaf, we convene interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners in a fashion that develops this understanding to advance changed business practices and supportive policies that yield beneficial results to human health.

In Conservation by Design (CbD) the mission is protecting biodiversity, with the targets being species, natural communities, and systems that represent the full diversity of life on earth.  To protect those targets, conservationists focus on top stressors (there are many, such as pollution and invasive species). They identify the sources of the stress (such as industrial emissions and ships that transit invasives), develop strategies that mitigate the source of the stress,  and then measure the results of their work against target goals. Knowledge gained contributes to revisions of strategies and actions to maximize contributions to protecting life on earth.

Health by Design operates with direct parallels to CbD.  The mission is protecting public health and the targets are healthy individuals and human communities (which are dependent on life-giving ecosystem services).  To protect public health we focus on top stressors associated with illness (toxins and poor nutrition), then identify the sources of those stressors such as known carcinogens (both natural and man-made) and food deserts.  We develop strategies to mitigate the stress, measure the results of our work against target goals, and feed that knowledge back into our strategies and practices to advance public health.

With diseases like cancer, our work is focused on prevention. We know there are four primary drivers of cancer: toxics, poor nutrition, infectious disease, and genetics.  These general categories can be inter-related and are under substantive research.  However, much of the research is driven toward treatment and not prevention.  And yet, just like with invasive species, wherein the establishment of a costly and damaging plant or animal can wreak havoc on an ecosystem’s health and so preventing its introduction is a critical first line of defense, so it is with invasive carcinoma and the importance of prevention to avoid its physical, emotional, and financial pain.  In both cases much resource is necessary and appropriate to find and advance effective treatments; however, equally important is the need to identify and support prevention of the introduction of the problematic element to begin with.  That is a first priority for maintaining both a healthy and robust ecosystem and human body.

At Greenleaf, we select sound strategies that can be designed and implemented by members of society with diverse expertise and experiences as we believe that’s what it takes to solve complex problems.  Increasingly scientists are appreciating the interdependencies between disciplines and society is engaging across varied interests to achieve truly sustainable solutions.  Greenleaf organizes communities of interest around environmental subject matters that are central to human health so that pathways of health and harm can be analyzed and acted upon.


J. A. Andersen, Jr.