The biggest factor on the minds of Californians continues to be the economy and jobs and rightfully so. In turn, our public officials are working hard and looking at all sorts of measures to attract good-paying jobs to our communities. One place many policymakers haven’t looked, however, is at our trees.
They would wise to start doing so, because more trees mean healthier communities, and healthier communities make for better business environments. Sound like a complex connection? It’s quite simple actually, so let us explain.
Healthier communities help companies diminish the effects of increasing health care costs. At the same time, companies also benefit from the higher productivity of healthier employees. For example, IBM recently opened a plant in Dubuque, Iowa, because the health care costs there were the lowest in the nation.
How do trees make a community healthy?
Trees and green spaces not only encourage healthier lifestyles—studies have shown that they also have a measurable, positive impact on mental and physical health. They have even been proven to reduce asthma, ADHD anda variety of stress-related illnesses, and to speed up hospital recovery times. A study led by Sjerp Devries at Wageningen University (Netherlands) actually suggests that every 10% increase in green space can reduce health complaints in communities by the equivalent of an increase of five years of age.
Additionally, trees and open spaces inherently promote increased physical activity. For example, tree-lined routes to work or school can offer residents extra motivation to walk, which doesn’t exist on routes without trees. Trees also provide increased cooling and shade in the summer, which makes being outdoors considerably more pleasant. Other studies also show that trees reduce crime, making it more likely for residents of urban neighborhoods to feel safe and comfortable spending time outside.
Would businesses come to your community?
As a recent article on Governing explained, complex formulas and comprehensive data now exist for calculating a community’s “health index,” which is not unlike an individual’s credit score. While your credit score tells those considering doing business with you how big of a risk you are, a community’s health Index rating gives businesses a sense of how much they will pay in health care costs if they open an office or plant in a given area.
Researchers have observed that companies are increasingly taking into account health factors, like a community’s obesity rate, when they make business location decisions. They simply cannot afford to let their employee health care costs continue to grow.
Data sets, like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, now allow us to easily look at the health of every county in America across a variety of factors. This data is updated regularly and is available for anyone to see, including companies making location decisions.
Healthier communities have always been good for us as individuals, and now they are increasingly good for our businesses. With much-needed jobs on the line, communities have never had a greater incentive to invest from the ground up in our trees, green spaces and parks.