Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth Day Brings Joy of Walking to School into Focus

PETERBOROUGH, On, April 19, 2011 /Canada NewsWire/ - Many people use Earth Day to ponder how daily choices like travel routines, food selection, recycling practices and energy consumption impact the Earth. What they may not know is that a right choice for the Earth is often a choice that also leads to greater personal happiness.

Children who walk to school seem to get it. Sandra Brooks, a mom from Brampton, Ontario, says of her daughter, "She always wanted to walk. For some reason it made her feel better, I guess, and she was always asking, 'Mommy, Mommy, can I please walk?'"

Children experience feelings of independence, wonder, curiosity and real joy when they are given the opportunity to walk or bike to school. Walking allows for reflection and recharging of psychological resources, which is especially useful before and after school. And when friends or family join in, it can be an important opportunity for building relationships, too.

Yet, many children don't get that opportunity anymore. Statistics show that 46% of children walked to school in 1969, but by 2001 it had dropped to less than half that.

Streets are perceived to be dangerous, schedules are packed and it's too easy for mom or dad to drive to school instead. Twice-daily school traffic jams, caustic fumes near school playgrounds and angry parents shouting and arguing with other parent drivers are testament to the fact that choosing to drive does not usually lead to personal happiness.

Studies have shown that ratings of personal happiness are positively linked to environmentally responsible behaviours like reusing bags and turning off lights in unoccupied rooms. Those studies indicate that when an individual makes a choice that he or she knows is beneficial to more than just him/herself, that choice contributes to the individual's sense of well-being. Dr. Catherine O'Brien of Cape Breton University says these choices lead to "sustainable happiness."

Sustainable happiness is "happiness that contributes to individual, community and/or global well-being and does not exploit other people, the environment, or future generations." In essence, learning how to take care of the earth is intertwined with taking care of ourselves.

What if we could work together in our communities to create neighbourhoods where walking and cycling to school becomes the norm? School Travel Planning is a process led by Green Communities Canada that aims to do just that. School Travel Planning has had great success in test communities across Canada by bringing together school administrators, police, public health officials, municipal leaders, municipal and school planners, parents and children to discuss barriers to active school travel and to create and implement action plans to overcome those barriers.

The school communities that have taken part in School Travel Planning have created better opportunities for children to walk and bike to school with actions like installing/repairing sidewalks or adding curb extensions that make road crossings shorter and safer. Measures like these also make it more appealing for people of all ages to enjoy the outdoors and connect with nature.

Now imagine the Canada we would have if every school community took part in School Travel Planning; every citizen at all stages of life could experience a taste of sustainable happiness in their own neighbourhood every day. Earth Day is a perfect time to learn the lessons of sustainability that our children can teach us.

Children's Mobility Health and Happiness is a national School Travel Planning project led by Green Communities Canada that promotes active transportation, a tangible example of a sustainable happiness choice that is easy to integrate into daily life. The project encourages students to walk and cycle on the school journey with the ultimate aim of instigating policy change re: school siting, local built environments surrounding schools, and school curriculum.

About Green Communities Canada

Green Communities Canada is a national association of non-profit organizations that deliver innovative, practical environmental solutions to Canadian households and communities. For more information, visit

For more on Sustainable Happiness