Gray and Green Together: Older Adults Can Play Role in Creating Healthier Environment

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Volunteering for environmental protection activities can be physically and mentally sustaining for older people, according to the latest issue of Public Policy & Aging Report (PPAR). In fact, this demographic group is in a unique position to have a noticeable impact on its surroundings.

For those looking to fill meaningful roles in the community after retirement, volunteerism provides opportunities for social integration. The programs of environmental organizations routinely bring together people of different generations. Many of these involve healthy physical activity, such as the testing of rivers or clean up of natural areas, for example.

“Citizen involvement on a large scale is needed to address pressing issues of environmental conservation and sustainability,” state authors Karl Pillemer, PhD, and Linda P. Wagenet, PhD, of Cornell University. In one of this PPAR’s four articles, they examine the prospects and promise for what the two call “environmental volunteerism and civic engagement” (EVCE) among older persons and point to some directions for encouraging this movement.

The ongoing increase in the number of older U.S. citizens, coupled with a senior population seeking meaningful participation in society, can greatly serve environmental protection efforts.

Even the U.S. government has begun to tap this resource. For over five years, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Aging Initiative has provided opportunities for older adults to become environmental stewards in their own communities.

Additionally, older people are beginning to develop a more complex relationship with their surroundings. Public health research suggests there are a number of environmental problems that disproportionately compromise the health of the older population. This group is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of air pollution, temperature extremes, and major weather events. America’s elder citizens are also beginning to have a greater effect on the environment “” through greater recreational travel, an increase in pharmaceutical waste, and the growth of independent and assisted living facilities.

This issue of PPAR, published by The National Academy on an Aging Society, is titled “Gray and Green Together” and can be purchased at

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