Promoting Green Living among Newcomer Families

The key goal of this applied research project was to assess the role of community-based green living workshop series in promoting environmental/green living knowledge and practice among newcomer families living in low-income neighborhoods in Toronto. Another goal of this study was to document newcomer perspectives on environment/green living, and its link to food security and health.

Our research goals and methods
This study had two key interconnected goals. The first goal was to document environmental/green living perspectives and practices among newcomers residing in a low-income neighborhood in Toronto (Taylor Massey neighborhood). The second goal engaged an applied research framework to assess the role of community-based green living workshop series, delivered by other newcomer peers (“Environmental Leaders”), in promoting environmental/green living knowledge and practice among these newcomer families. We conducted a pre-post survey with participants from four green living workshops delivered by Enviro Leaders (n=53). The pre-post survey examined impacts on knowledge, attitude and practices (KAP) among newcomer participants before and after attending the green living workshops. Surveys were piloted with four newcomers to ensure clarity and cultural acceptability of survey questions. We then conducted two follow up focus groups one month after the workshops (n=18) to assess for knowledge uptake and application over the course of the month. We also conducted one focus group with Enviro Leaders and one focus group with service providers (from environmental NGOs and settlement/community agencies who work closely with newcomer communities).

Our project team
This community based participatory action/applied research was conducted by an interdisciplinary team comprised of academics and practitioners. Dr Yogendra Shakya (Senior Research Scientist, Access Alliance), Akm Alamgir (Manager of Quality and Accountability, Access Alliance) and Morris Beckford Director of Community Health and Wellbeing, Access Alliance) jointly led this study. Anjana Aery was the Project Coordinator for this study with Nadia Jamil providing project management support. Member of Advisory Committee for this projected included: Lara Mosrovsky (Green Access Community Animator, Access Alliance), Ziadh Rabbani (Green Access Community Health Worker, Access Alliance), Saira Ansari (Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Earth Day Canada), and Sarah Singh (Program Manager, Harmony Hall Centre for Seniors). In line with our CBR principles, we engaged Shadwa Mohamed and Keith D’Silva as peer researchers in the project.

What we found
Results from our pre-post survey and focus groups indicate that:

  • Newcomer participants (living in a low-income neighborhood like Taylor Massey) have strong knowledge and interest in environmental issues and green living. The majority of participants (87%) agreed they were aware of current environmental issues and almost half (47%) indicated they knew how to grow food in a way that was good for the environment. Study participants knew that green living is not just good for the environment but also can lead to good health and can save money.
  • However, newcomers living in low-income neighborhoods face many systemic barriers (cost, lack of green space and space to grow food, lack of local information, language barrier etc.) to practicing green living.
  • Environmental NGOs lack diversity and equity policies. They tend to assume that newcomers and low-income families are not interested in green living and tend to exclude them; only 17% of study participants mentioned they access information or services from environmental NGOs.
  • Pre-post evaluation of Access Alliance’s green living workshops show that these workshops are effective in increasing knowledge about environmental issues and green living practices among newcomers living in low-income neighborhoods. One month follow up focus group showed that workshop participants are actively applying this knowledge, and sharing it with relatives, neighbors as well as their healthcare providers.
  • The key factors that make these green living workshops effective include: friendly staff/facilitators, the fact that the workshops are delivered by other newcomer peers (Enviro Leaders), hands-on demonstration, provision of basic supplies to apply the knowledge and offset initial set up costs (e.g. seeds, planter box), and overcoming barriers to participating in the workshops (e.g. childcare on premise, language interpretation support).
  • Recommendations from study participants include scaling up the green living workshops in a “massive way”; more workshops on the link between green living and health (e.g. understanding GMOs, healthy seasonal food); more space for community gardens; more workshops on critical environmental issues like climate change, reducing waste, and pollution; and setting up a green living telephone “hotline”.

You can access the full research report here (PDF 801 KB).

Our knowledge translation activities
We have shared study findings at different forums and tables focused on environmental/green living initiatives. We will continue to share these findings and recommendations, particularly to environmental NGOs and policy makers.

Our funder
This study was supported by funding from Healthier Cities and Communities Hub Seed Grant Initiative.

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