TREES + PUBLIC HEALTH =The Perfect Conversation Starter
A new campaign promotes the health benefits of forests
By Stasia Kelly
Emerging from the global pandemic, people are more aware than ever of the connection between the environment and public health. Like many trends that accelerated over the past year, this awareness has been emerging for some years. And now is the moment to leverage it. A new, nationwide initiative to help people make the connection from human health to trees and forests aims to make “Healthy Trees, Healthy Lives” as well-known as “Got Milk?”
If the “HTHL” slogan sounds familiar, it’s because the initiative was first introduced by the Southern Group of State Foresters (SGSF) in 2018. Communicators in the SGSF group recognized that the links between human health and nature, especially trees, were increasingly being confirmed by the academic and science communities. What so many people have innately known about the good feelings they get from being around trees now had a growing body of evidence to prove their tangible, good-health benefits.
The HTHL campaign had a “soft start” web presence through SGSF, and some supporting activities were carried out by member states. But with health-connection research mounting, in-house communicators knew it was time to reach for a wider audience, beyond forestry-centric agencies.
“We needed a place that everyone can go, that belongs to everyone,” said Gretchen Riley, Texas A&M Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Partnership Leader and HTHL project co-leader. She said the new website “doesn’t look governmental or regulatory,” and that project managers are very happy with it.
One of the best things about the new site is that it’s easy to find. A simple Google search for “Healthy Trees, Healthy Lives” takes internet users to a list of four direct links to HealthyTreesHealthyLives.org. Four successive links go to partner organizations supporting HTHL, including the Georgia Forestry Commission at GATrees.org.
Website visitors will immediately be struck by the pleasing graphic design and nature-based colors. Clever bursts of movement set a lively, interactive tone. Animated birds fly across the screen, and people reach for apples growing on a tree. Steam rises from coffee cups while bike riders glide by and kids play on swings.
The home page says it all: “Trees can transform your health. There’s something remarkably simple that anyone can do to improve their well-being: Spend time near trees. Learn how healthy trees and forests benefit you and your community.”
In the “About” section, the initiative’s goals are clearly stated:
Our Mission: It is our mission to increase the collective understanding of our health being connected to our forests and to the trees in and around our communities. We are leading a social change in the United States, helping over time to significantly alter people’s behavioral patterns, cultural values and norms with an inherent understanding and appreciation of our own health being positively affected by trees and forests.
Our Vision: We envision a world where everyone understands the connection between trees, forests and health — and makes daily and long-range decisions based on improving human health through this connection.
Our Values: The Healthy Trees, Healthy Lives initiative is committed to: ● Awareness – helping people understand and appreciate how forests positively affect human health. ● Access – increasing people’s access and demand for proximity to trees and forests for health reasons. ● Action – building an engaged community who actively plan and manage trees and forests specifically for health reasons. ● Added value – creating an environment in which people want to learn more about forests and all the other benefits they provide.
Now that you’ve been drawn into the subject, you’ll want to explore the site. Navigation is simple and intuitive, and content covers a sizable amount of information, broken down into three main categories and a myriad of subsections.
“See the Benefits” spells out the many proven health benefits associated with trees: physical, mental, healing and financial. “Inspiring Stories” chronicles ways people across the country have worked on behalf of these benefits, including the non-profit Baton Rouge Green, which opened access to green spaces to increase environmental awareness and stewardship. “Resources” lists the multitude of sources that have contributed to the burgeoning understanding of the relationship between trees and health.
An Idea Whose Time Is Right
“This body of research is growing every day,” said Texas A&M Forest Service Communications Manager and HTHL project co-leader Linda Moon. “There’s a lot more out there.”
“The site is a work in progress,” added Riley. “We want to reach everyone ‘where they’re at;’ Let’s see how we can pull ‘em in!”
Moon said HTHL is “in line with everything happening now,” and that includes the nation’s experience fighting the COVID pandemic. When lockdowns were issued, HTHL coordinators used social media to spread awareness about the health benefits of trees. Those who were in quarantine were likely encouraged by research revealing how simple views of trees and nature are linked to well-being. Exposure to forests has been shown to decrease mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring one’s mind as well as providing a sense of security.
“This connection between trees and people is intricate, yet powerful,” said Riley. “Being around trees and forests helps our minds find rest while encouraging physical engagement, all while subtly purifying the environment.”
The pandemic came at a time when the HTHL campaign was ramping up. The coincidence did not go unnoticed.
“I never thought of COVID benefiting anyone,” said Moon. “But being outside is one of the safest places to be. It gives us a place to relax and de-stress, to be a part of nature,” which were antidotes sought by many during 2020.
Start Spreading the News
Lacking deep-pocketed sponsors for a massive ad campaign, Riley said the HTHL leadership group is working on strategies that will carry their messages far and wide. A number of identified audiences are highlighted on the HTHL website: tree advocacy groups, municipalities, planners, homeowners’ associations, landscape designers, medical practitioners, park boards, assisted living, employees, schools, universities, hospitals, architects and businesses.
Numerous tools for speakers are being developed as well, and now that in-person meetings are beginning to return, more personal outreach to associations and other organizations will take place. And Riley said the Healthy Trees, Healthy Lives website will soon offer communications pack - ages that anyone can use to share these highly relatable messages with our own individual “choirs.”
“People really should take a look at the Healthy Trees, Healthy Lives website,” said Georgia Forestry Commission Public Relations Director Wendy Burnett. “This material opens so many doors to conversations about forestry for all of us, on every level. We want to actively share the good news that health and trees go hand in hand, and the more people we can enlist as ambassadors, the better!”
Burnett said that Georgia’s abundant forests and temperate climate make it easy for people to get out and enjoy nature. The Georgia Forestry Com - mission website at GATrees.org offers abundant resources to learn more.
“There’s a global health crisis going on,” said Riley. “Obesity, chronic disease and mental health are big issues. Healthy Trees, Healthy Lives is an idea whose time has come. This is a long-term investment, and like doctors washing up between surgeries or cities being built with planned utilities, we want the message to become standard practice and part of society’s fabric,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for us to talk about all the benefits of forestland and trees.” ■
Stasia Kelly is a media relations specialist with the Georgia Forestry Commission. Stasia is focused on telling the story of forestry and the immense impact of the industry on Georgia’s environment, economy and heritage.
Georgia Forestry Magazine is published by HL Strategy, an integrated marketing and communications firm focused on our nation's biggest challenges and opportunities. Learn more at hlstrategy.com