Green Health Glossary

This page provides definitions of selected terms that are used frequently in NCCOR's green health work. The notes in italics provide context. For additional information, visit the Green Health Resources page.

The Basics

Putting Green Health into Practice

Conducting Green Health Research

The Basics

Built environment is the human-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity, ranging in scale from buildings and parks to neighborhoods and cities.

Green health refers to linkages between the "green building" (environmentally sustainable) industry and public health. The green building industry and public health share many goals, which makes it possible to create built environments that promote health and well-being and reduce environmental impact. For example, green building design principles can be used to create vegetable gardens and playgrounds at schools, resulting in better use of the environment, healthy eating, and increased physical activity.

Green school is a designation referring to a school that creates a healthy environment that is conducive to learning while saving energy, resources, and money.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental) is a voluntary program managed by the U.S. Green Building Council that provides environmental ratings for building design, construction, operations, and maintenance. LEED ratings systems have been developed for many different types of projects, including health care facilities, schools, homes, and even neighborhoods.

Energy Star is an international standard for energy efficient consumer products created in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Devices carrying the Energy Star service mark, such as computer products, kitchen appliances, buildings, and other products, generally use 20 percent to 30 percent less energy than required by federal standards.

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Putting Green Health into Practice

Green health principles can be put into practice in many ways, from activities at the community level, to guidelines that influence architecture and urban design across the country, to training programs for professionals.

Joint-use agreement is a formal document between two entities—often a school and a county or city government—that outlines the terms and conditions for shared use of a public facility. Promoting shared use of facilities such as a playgrounds, athletic fields, or gardens is a growing green health practice because it can promote the health of community residents and encourage sustainable use of the community's built environment.

New York City Active Design Guidelines provides architects and urban designers with a manual of strategies for creating healthier buildings, streets, and urban spaces based on the latest academic research and best practices in the field to encourage physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviors.

Built Environment + Public Health Curriculum is a model curriculum for colleges and universities developed in 2009 that integrates the built environment and health disciplines. The curriculum gives students an understanding of the interactions between the built environment and health, and it builds skills that they can use as professional planners, public health practitioners, and in other related professions.

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Conducting Green Health Research

Many researchers are interested in exploring how the environments in which we live affect our nutrition, physical activity, and other health behaviors. Understanding these relationships can help in developing programs to promote health and reduce chronic conditions like obesity. These issues are extremely complex, however, because so many factors are involved and they interact in many different ways. Investigators have developed methods that take these complexities into account.

Systems science encompasses several kinds of analytical approaches. These methods help researchers examine the dynamic interrelationships of variables at multiple levels of analysis (e.g., from cells to society) simultaneously while also studying the impact on the behavior of the system as a whole over time.

Agent-based modeling is a form of systems science modeling in which investigators construct an "artificial society" where each actor is represented in computer code. Agent-based modeling integrates various data types at multiple scales (such as individuals, communities, events, buildings, and neighborhoods). Agent-based modeling can help answer green health research questions, such as: Does a specific building site or neighborhood promote obesity in a community, and if so, how? How can combinations of several small changes in the interior and/or exterior of existing buildings work together to change behaviors to improve health outcomes?

Another reason why green health research can be complex and difficult is that so much data are available from so many sources. Researchers have developed various ways to collect these data and manage them efficiently.

Green Building Information Gateway (GBIG), a project of the U.S. Green Building Council, provides a data infrastructure that unpacks LEED criteria into data that can be linked and compared with data from other sources. For example, LEED data from projects in a particular location can be compared with walkability data as well as other geographic and demographic data. GBIG also provides a framework for collecting data using mobile devices and other social media inputs. GBIG provides a way to collect information about how humans actually experience buildings.

mHealth is a term used for the practice of medicine and public health that is supported by mobile devices. The term is most commonly used to refer to using devices, such as mobile phones, tablet computers and PDAs, to: collect data; deliver information to healthcare professionals, researchers, or patients; monitor patients in real time; and deliver care directly (such as through telemedicine).

Real-world built environments provide many opportunities for green health research, but it can be a challenge because events occur rapidly, and researchers must be ready to take advantage of these opportunities.

Natural experiments are studies that observe the effects of changes in an environment, policy, or practice. An example would be a study conducted after a community passed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to see whether and how consumption of these beverages changed.

Rapid response funding opportunities are a way for green health researchers to obtain grant funding in a much shorter timeframe than is possible with traditional funding mechanisms. Rapid response opportunities have several submission deadlines throughout the year, and award funds less than six months after a grant is submitted.