Why Sustainability is Important to Measures of Quality of Life and Subjective Well-Being
Ah, Summer. The season of warm weather and long sunny days, which seem to afford more time to catch up on the backlog of reading that has accumulated since the New Year began. In addition to light pleasure reading typically associated with summer, for many faculty it is also a time for doing ones own research and writing, reviewing others’ research for potential course development and publication, or updating syllabi for the Fall.
Although I am not a faculty member, I do print off research that catches my eye, usually stashing it in a folder until there is some time to read it. I happened to be cleaning off a bookshelf last week in an effort to see which books could be donated when I came across a manila folder with a copy of the below research paper on quality of life and subjective well-being. Though published in 2006, it still is very applicable and I thought it worth highlighting.
An interdisciplinary team of 21 faculty at the University of Vermont and the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics conducted the study, trying to tackle the issue of defining quality of life (QOL) with the goal of figuring out ways to enhance it.
While this topic is certainly applicable to sustainability practitioners (and the interdisciplinary nature of the authors helps illustrate this), the researchers also note the importance and need for further research looking specifically into the intersection between sustainability and QOL studies.
In the abstract to the paper, Quality of life: An approach integrating opportunities, human needs, and subjective well-being, the goal is clearly stated to provide, “an integrative definition of QOL that combines measures of human needs with subjective well-being or happiness. QOL is proposed as a multi-scale, multi-dimensional concept that contains interacting objective and subjective elements.”
The authors go on to say that, “We relate QOL to the opportunities that are provided to meet human needs in the forms of built, human, social and natural capital (in addition to time) and the policy options that are available to enhance these opportunities.”
Towards the end of the paper, the authors acknowledge the need for further research related to sustainability in this area:
“The application of sustainability issues to QOL studies is another avenue of research that is likely to prove integral. The continuation of the goods and services (including aesthetic) provided by natural ecosystems is a key concern for maintaining life functions. The level and quality of Natural Capital inputs needed and their effect on individual needs and overall QOL are issues that require immediate investigation. Answering the question: “What is the role of ecological sustainability for QOL?” could help integrate the social and scientific policy agendas and hence pay double dividends.”
After finishing the paper, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own feelings of happiness, quality of life and well-being. Many of the human needs the authors identify are strongly related and impacted by levels of ecological sustainability (identified as requiring inputs of natural capital). My own personal measurement was of course a snapshot in time, which certainly was elevated by the fact that I happened to be reflecting on this while lounging next to a swimming pool on a warm summer day (meeting and most likely exceeding the human need of leisure).
A few take aways also struck me: how the work of campus sustainability is so strongly connected to issues of improving quality of life but sometimes only implicitly stated; how measuring student, faculty and staff levels of QOL in relation to sustainability initiatives could be instructive to improving programs; and how a closer examination of QOL issues could have long term implications on broadening the conversation and context of campus sustainability.
If there is additional research happening in this space please share it in the comments section below. I am also interested to hear others reactions to the paper (only 8 short pages). The full paper is available here as a PDF.
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