Working with Industry to Promote Public Health

by Jay Maddock, PhD

Mad About Public Health is a series that looks at the health of populations from varying creative and innovative perspectives. This post looks at worksite well-being. You might also enjoy Dr. Maddock’s previous series, From the Dean’s Perspective

I recently had the opportunity to attend and speak at Texan by Nature’s Conservation Wrangler Summit in Dallas, Texas. As public health professionals, we often attend conferences where we spend our time speaking to a roomful of other public health professionals. While it can be rewarding to share your ideas with other like-minded professionals, these talks tend to have limited impact in addressing the public health problems facing us. Like many conversations in America these days, we end up reinforcing our views and becoming more polarized by not talking to people with different viewpoints. 

This was not the case at the Conservation Wrangler summit. I was one of the only academics and possibly the only public health person in the room. This summit is attended by over two hundred people with about half coming from industry and half from conservation groups. The four gold sponsors for the summit were all oil and gas companies: Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Enbridge, and Phillips 66. As I looked through the program, I knew this was going to be a radically different group than the roomful of liberal academics that I usually speak to. The program included speakers from Ducks Unlimited, EOG Resources, Southwest Airlines, and Union Pacific, along with several conservation groups, including the Galveston Bay Foundation, Friends of the Rio Grande Valley Reef, Trinity River Paddling Trail, and El Paso Water. However, as people started speaking, it was hard to tell who was from industry and who was from conservation. The feeling that pervaded the room was a love for Texas and the need to conserve our open spaces, wildlife, and environment.  Working with Industry to Promote Public Health

What was even more clear is that the only way we can protect and conserve our natural resources is working with private land owners. Over 95% of the land in Texas is in private hands.  While the conservations groups are doing an outstanding job with this last 5%, non-traditional partners are essential to success. Ducks Unlimited spoke about their work with private landowners in restoring wetlands. Yes, the goal was to have more areas to go duck hunting, but the net effect was a large increase in wetlands and in the overall number of ducks. EOG Resources, which is doing oil and gas extraction, spoke about their efforts to minimize their environmental impact by reducing their footprint and planting native grasses and plants to enhance habitats for birds and butterflies. Southwest Airlines spoke about recycling their old leather airplane seat covers. Since 2016, they have recycled over one million pounds of leather and given it to nonprofits working with veterans, disabled people, senior citizens, youth groups, and other disadvantaged populations to create golf club covers, jewelry, backpacks, luggage tags, and other items.  Working with Industry to Promote Public Health

At the end of the day, the TxN 20 was announced. This group was selected as the 20 Texan-based businesses doing the best work in conversation. The winners came from across industries and included banks, grocery stores, energy companies, railroads, and airlines. At dinner, we heard a speech from Texan by Nature’s founder, First Lady Laura Bush, about the importance of conservation and protecting our planet. As I reflected on the day and the approach of Texan by Nature, it is clear that we need to engage our industry partners in improving public and planetary health. Most people, regardless of their political affiliation or job, believe strongly in protecting and preserving our natural environment. It is imperative as public health professionals that we connect with industry to have the impact that we need to create scalable and planetary-level change.    Working with Industry to Promote Public Health

Jay E. Maddock, PhD, FAAHB, is Chief Wellness Officer (and former Dean of the School of Public Health) at Texas A&M University. He is internationally recognized for his research in social ecological approaches to increasing physical activity. He has served as principal investigator on over $18 million in extramural funding and authored over 100 scientific articles. [Full Bio]

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