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In 2011 AiREAS was founded as a sustainocratic community to address regional air quality and health as a shared citizen and institutional responsibility.
AiREAS became the first multidisciplinary, cooperative association that has no financial objectives for its members or itself. Money is only a means for the cooperative, just like so many other things. Its sustainocratic mission is defined to bring together all regional stakeholders and cocreate this healthy environment together. A core natural and human values driven mission. Around the AiREAS table we gather local government officials, citizens, scientists, business people and educators together, all within that same common challenging mission.
Despite the positiveness of the community shaping around such a great and shared responsibility, it remains extremely difficult to produce adequate and measureable changes that show improvement in our local health and air quality situation. Our polluting behavior is so deeply engrained in our societal functioning that it requires a huge makeover to effectively produce sustainable health.
This huge makeover has to do with a mentality shift. Once that is done, many small voluntary and big organized changes bring about a huge transformation.
This is probably one of the most important learning results within AiREAS after these 11 years.
At first this mindset shift was not there. Participants joined with many different motivations but hardly ever the one of shared responsibility for health and a healthy envirionment. Only years later the mentality shift started to occur.
We all know that we pollute our environment yet have great difficulties in letting go of this polluting attitude if this affects our lifestyle and comfort. This does not only apply for us as citizens. It also applies for industries, agriculture, permits providing governments, transportation companies, etc. Our lifestyle, luxury or profitability (in case of business institutions) comes first, our responsibilities second, sometimes very very far behind this first. We seem to have great difficulties in turning this around and imagine our happiness, wellness or success without the polluting structures.
Our societies are full of contradictions that show our confusion between our desired sense of wellness and our shared responsibilities towards each other and our environment.
When AiREAS was formed, the invitation to participate was focused on this shared health mission. Many attented the invitation but only very specific people and institutions stayed:
- the ones with financial objectives only, usually in a survival mode, disappeared quickly. AiREAS has no budget, no building, no resources of its own. It only has a shared mission and its multiple partners that are willing to invest (time, money, resources) in this cocreation.
- the ones with an existential mission around remedial activities, such as health care in an unhealthy environment, saw AiREAS as a threat to their positioning in society and were reluctant to commit to health. They did not participate.
- leaving only the people and institutions that were authentic, in creation mode, motivated for their own reason (self interest connected to the common challenge).
- many organizations that focus on their “thing” never even consider their impact on health or the environment unless someone confronts them with it. They had no natural intention to participate in Aireas since it did not fit their daily functioning. They often were not even aware of the existence of the cooperative.
From a citizens point of view it were often those citizens with a critical view to society, especially against government functioning that allowed pollution out financial interests or city design processes. Participation was often more fear than responsibility driven.
The participation in AiREAS became a self sellecting ecosystem. That itself was already an interesting topic to study. It also shows the complexity to transform an entire societal mindset when only a very specific type of pioneers engage to the new regional storytelling. A large part of society remains fixated within their old mindset that conducts their daily lives.
Gladly gradually all this changed and health and environment did become part of the (institutional) mindsets. For each of the AiREAS participants this meant a huge transformation of their own positioning in society. An admirable evolution.
Every year the local High School in the Netherlands, Fontys, organizes an international gathering of students from other European countries. During a week they are challenged to work together on certain topics. These students came from the background of IT and Business Studies. Fontys was already charmed by the regional measurement network for air quality in the region. It therefore contacted AiREAS with the question if we would like to participate and present a case? We accepted of course, with gratitud. In view of the diversity of the background of the students, I decided to bring our challenge to the level of Healthy City development. During my opening presentation I took the students to the mindset of Sustainocracy, the one of shared responsibility for our core values, including our health and a healthy envirionment.
Since there were also students in Business Studies I also took them into the thinking of 4 x WIN. They were grouped in multidisciplianry teams to work on their own healthy city contributions. As usual there was a touch base moment to see where they stood in the middle of the week. All were motivated and already had basic ideas of what they would present at the end of the week.
Also the local government and our technological institute, TNO, did some related inspiration sessions, showing the local cohesion around health and health based city design.
Initially there were four groups of about 10 students. We expected 4 poster presentations but finally were presented with 6. Some groups had split up because of outbursts of ideas that wanted to see the light too.
The students were enthousiastic about the learning environment in a real life case of city development. Our institute at home does not work this way, they said. This was an eye opener for us, a new world of awareness that we would like to pursue further.
With AiREAS we work together on healthy regioal development. This requires a huge transformation in our behavior. One of those changes is our mobility. Now studies reveal that slow mobility in town is good for our health. It also contributes to better air quality, less climate issues and a better economy.