Embedding health and sustainability

Key Concepts – Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability

Healthy Universities adopts a broad and holistic understanding of health, embracing a wellbeing focus and appreciating its close connections to linked agendas such as sustainability.

Health: Following the World Health Organization, health is understood to be “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO, Constitution, 1946). Health is a resource for everyday life, not the object of living, and is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities. There is also a growing recognition that human health is dependent on and interconnected with ecosystem health and the wider wellbeing of places and planet.

Wellbeing: Wellbeing remains a highly contested concept. However, as indicated by the WHO definition above, it is closely entwined with the concept of health. Traditionally, two contrasting perspectives have been identified: hedonic wellbeing is concerned with pleasure, avoidance of pain and subjective happiness; and eudaemonic wellbeing focuses on human flourishing and realisation of potential (Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. On happiness and human potentials: a review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual review of psychology, 2001: 52; 141–166).

Sustainability and Sustainable Development: Sustainability is concerned with ability to endure into the future. The term stems from the concept of sustainable development, which has been defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future – Brundtland Report, 1992) and “‘a dynamic process which enables all people to realise their potential and improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life support systems” (Forum for the Future).