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Benita Hussain of the Trust for Public Land: Why it is so important to teach your children to feel responsible for this planet and all life that lives on it

Teach your children to feel responsible for this planet and all life that lives on it. This is not just about the environment, but about people too. My husband and I both work in sustainability and social justice, and we read our 4-year old son age-appropriate books about these issues, such as Dr. Seuss’ The […]

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Teach your children to feel responsible for this planet and all life that lives on it. This is not just about the environment, but about people too. My husband and I both work in sustainability and social justice, and we read our 4-year old son age-appropriate books about these issues, such as Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, and take the time to discuss with him.


As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Benita Hussain, Director, 10 Minute Walk at the Trust for Public Land.

Benita has over 15 years of experience in climate change, urban policy, and sustainable development. She is currently director of 10 Minute Walk, a national movement led by The Trust for Public Land (TPL) that is dedicated to improving access to safe, quality parks and green spaces in U.S. cities — large and small. Benita also worked with late-Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to create Greenovate Boston, an award-winning climate action campaign that aims to reduce Boston’s greenhouse gases 80% by 2050. Prior to public service, Benita was a corporate lawyer at the international firm Morrison & Foerster LLP. She holds a Bachelor of Science in environmental studies from Cornell University and a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. Her writing has appeared in Outside Magazine, The Boston Globe, Sierra, and GOOD.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up as a first-generation American to immigrant parents in Brooklyn and Long Island, New York. I am the youngest of three sisters. My mother and father emigrated to New York City in 1975 from Bangladesh. They represented the ‘American Dream’ of working hard, raising kids and navigating a culture that made little sense to them, and eventually finding success. I did well in school, but I was also rebellious, outspoken, listened to punk rock, and questioned their conservative values. I guess they felt conflicted by it all.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

I had a fifth grade teacher, who in 1990, would be considered eccentric. On our first day of school, she arrived with multiple piercings and flowy clothing; she told the class that she hugged trees. Coming out of my reserved household, she blew my mind. The Exxon Valdez oil spill struck that year and my class spent much of the time writing reports about the destructive consequences for animals, our water, and air — all at the hands of oil companies and other industries. I have been an environmentalist ever since and there was no question that I would study environmental science when I got to Cornell.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

While solving climate change and other environmental issues can feel overwhelming, it may only take one event or experience that resonates enough with us personally to inspire action. We need to take the first step — no matter how small. Tell your friends and family to recycle more (even when they look at you quizzically), eat less meat, or hug the tree that your strange teacher does. Even small efforts can open you up to new perspectives and can make it all feel less overwhelming. There is hope in each of us taking small actions on any one environmental issue. We certainly won’t solve the broader crisis on our own, but we will learn to empathize with everyone living on this planet and our activism contributes to their well-being, especially the underserved and marginalized. With this understanding, we can each have tremendous ripple effects across sectors and policies.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

I currently lead a national campaign, 10 Minute Walk, which aims to have all urban residents live within a 10-minute walk (or ½ mile) of a park by 2050. We are doing this because put simply: People need parks — especially those of us who live in rapidly growing cities. As cities grow and our lives change by-the-minute, green spaces keep us and our communities healthier, safer, and more connected. By serving as essential backyards for millions of people, parks and green spaces are also helping confront some of today’s most pressing social and policy challenges. They offer places to play, exercise, unplug, and connect with others in our communities, which has a direct impact on our personal health and physical well-being. So far, almost 300 cities have put their support behind this initiative and I’m thrilled to be working on a campaign that is having tangible and measurable results. The cities we work with have major goals to reduce obesity, depression, and anxiety, and others want to connect their neighborhoods and make them more attractive for cycling and walking. Together, we are creating places where people truly want to live and grow.

Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

Get outside more, even if it’s just sitting under a shady tree. More exposure to nature will change your mindset, your health, and could inspire you to become a passionate steward of this planet. I’m an avid surfer, and no matter their politics, every surfer I know cares about marine conservation. How can you enjoy Earth’s resources and not want to protect them?

Stop buying so much “stuff,” especially disposables. Whether it’s cheap clothing or plastic-packaged anything or buying that new cell phone every year, know that our planet is suffering from overconsumption. If you can, go for the longer-lasting, likely more expensive item, which will help you decide if you really need something — or if you just want it. Many products will help you determine whether an exploited factory or farm worker was involved in getting that product to you. These are all intersectional issues.

Eat less meat. This is a fundamental behavior change that will have the most impact on climate change globally.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things people can do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

Study the issues and get to know them deeply. One of the biggest challenges that the environmental movement faces is how politicized the climate change deniers and anti-environmentalists have made our work. Environmentalist efforts are steeped in science and facts, and we need to speak to these issues in rational, learned ways. We need to teach the youth that truth should prevail — PLUS we should be able to answer their many questions about these issues.

Teach your children to feel responsible for this planet and all life that lives on it. This is not just about the environment, but about people too. My husband and I both work in sustainability and social justice, and we read our 4-year old son age-appropriate books about these issues, such as Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, and take the time to discuss with him.

Behave responsibly. Not everyone has to work in the environmental field to say that they’re committed to these issues- model the behavior that you want future generations to embody.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the number of issues — any small action counts!

And #1 for me: Take your children outside! I live in New York City and here, 80% of kids get to experience nature only through their urban parks. Parents can find pieces of nature everywhere, and by teaching your children to have fun in it, it teaches them to want to take care of it. Plus, it’s good for them!

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

There are very few business leaders that don’t see the value of answering the demands of their customers, and the country is trending towards people understanding that climate change and sustainability are key issues they should care about. Also, many of those leaders share the same values, and by pushing their own companies to be more responsible, less exploitative of their workers, and improve their supply chains, they know they can make a real dent.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband. We didn’t meet through professional networks, and we both just so happen to have worked in environmental policy when we did. It’s extremely gratifying to be married to someone who has a similar mindset and dedication to working in this field, and we spend a lot of time bouncing work ideas off each other and taking each other’s advice, which has been super helpful over the years.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m working on it right now! What I love about my current job is that we are trying to make concrete changes that affect people’s everyday lives. This campaign I am running has one goal in mind: To get more people into nature and to expand their access to parks and greenspaces, in places that are often the farthest and most in need of those connections: cities. Most of the U.S. population lives in cities, so having them be able to enjoy, plan, and relax in the greenspaces that we want them to have would have tremendous impacts on their air and water quality, their mental and physical health, as well as their connections and understanding of nature.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

Breathe and focus. There’s always a ton to get done, an overwhelming amount, and it always helps to take a step outside — maybe to your local park! — and just reset to get your best work done.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

You can find me on Twitter: @benitadhussain and LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bdhussain. You can learn more about the campaign here: @10minwalk.

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