Building Resilience Strategies for Environmental Workers

A Knology researcher highlights the urgent need for environmental workers to prioritize their emotional wellbeing and resilience.

by Rupu Gupta
Jul 21, 2020

There is a pressing need to acknowledge the effects of stressful psychological experiences on environmental workers, dealing daily with overwhelming issues like climate change. Knology’s past work has documented the value of communities of practice, as support systems to strengthen this sector’s professional and personal capacities. Yet, current professional development opportunities for environmental workers don’t prioritize support focused on the socio-emotional aspects of their professional lives. The COVID-19 pandemic foregrounded these issues, even as the sector grappled with additional financial burdens and uncertainties. The need for environmental workers to focus on their wellbeing and capacity for resilience has never been more urgent.

We envision an initiative to advance the long-term capacity and resilience of the environmental community in the US. The coronavirus pandemic has financially devastated the informal learning sector, with widespread layoffs and furloughs (AZA, 2020), creating extraordinarily challenging circumstances. Nationally, more than three million environmental workers (Gupta et al., 2018) routinely work on challenges at the local level (e.g., community gardening, urban restoration, environmental justice) all the way up to global concerns (e.g., climate change, mass extinction, global deforestation).

Barring leadership positions, most environmental workers’ jobs are low-paying and often seasonal, putting them even more at risk in the COVID-19 crisis. In 2020, a staggering number have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or are working with reduced pay. With social distancing likely to be the norm in public places at least for the foreseeable future, it is unclear whether and when they will return to work. A deep understanding of the lived experiences of the community will be essential to developing strategies for supporting well-being and resilience that can be implemented sector-wide. This community is particularly well positioned to benefit from studies exploring the impacts of COVID-19 on environmental workers, as the findings will remain relevant long after the pandemic is under control.

For broader impact on this community, we can produce strategies for supporting socio-emotional well-being to be disseminated among environmental associations. The strategies will be informed by the perspectives of those who have been negatively impacted professionally including details of the ongoing economic repercussions, as well as their adaptive capacities and coping mechanisms. These strategies will also address their current and future work prospects as environmental change agents with an eye towards providing long-term professional benefits.

For too long, the phenomenological experiences of workers have taken a backseat to the urgent needs of the environmental movement. We believe that implementing infrastructure that supports the emotional well-being of environmental workers will go a long way toward helping this community accomplish our shared goals.

Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash

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