OUTSIDE I CAN: A Campaign to Reconnect to the Outdoors

About the Author

Tom Elson is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Invest Outside. Tom is a former youth wilderness trip leader who brings nearly 15 years of experience working in the environmental field across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. He served as Associate Director of Strategic Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Commerce and as the Principal Deputy Director for Public Engagement at the White House, where he helped lead all stakeholder engagement related to the environment. / Michael Degnan is the President and Co-Founder of Invest Outside. Michael has over a decade of experience working on public lands issues and has led efforts inside and outside of government to protect parks and monuments, connect underserved kids with the outdoors, and increase opportunities for outdoor recreation. He previously served as the Associate Director for Land and Water at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

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Here’s a stark fact: we spend ninety-five percent of our lives indoors. The outlook doesn’t look good for the next generation as younger Americans spend more time in front of screens than ever before. And for low-income and minority groups, who often lack the means or opportunities to regularly connect with nature, outdoor time is even less common.

Trends in declining outdoor time have underscored the growing concern that, across the country, Americans are in the process of losing a fundamental relationship with the outdoors. This disconnect is drastically reducing vital health benefits that come from spending time in nature. A growing body of research demonstrates a strong link between our proximity to nature and living longer, healthier lives. Spending more time in nature delivers a range of benefits, including reduced depression, risk of illness, and stress, and improved self-esteem, mood, and memory. The less time we spend in the outdoors, the more we deprive ourselves of these benefits.

Also, without this firsthand relationship, we can hardly expect our leaders, let alone the next generation of leaders, to share our desire to protect our public lands and waters.

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Fortunately, there are efforts to reverse these alarming trends. One of which is the Outside I Can campaign. Led by a coalition of health experts, leading businesses, community organizations, and foundations, the Outside I Can campaign aims to grow an inclusive movement that inspires one million people to make getting outside a regular part of their lives. The campaign also hopes to establish the Outside I Can coalition as an influential voice capable of building political support for policies that make it easier for all people to experience the outdoors.

Through digital strategies, the online campaign employs inspirational storytelling and unique and compelling content to recruit new, influential supporters and to break down the barriers to getting outside. Our priority is to find ways to increase access and opportunities in the outdoors for all people, regardless of race, gender, or income. Additionally, we will continue to highlight and support groups such as veterans and people with disabilities who have even more to gain through an increased connection to the outdoors.

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Offline, we are working with our coalition partners to support efforts to get all communities outside. For the campaign’s business partners, that means supporting local efforts that improve outdoor access in their communities. And it also means finding more ways to encourage their employees to spend time in nature, whether that is through leading volunteer events in local or national parks, building new outdoor community gardens, facilitating team-building outings in the outdoors, or implementing incentives to commute to work via foot or bike.

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The Outside I Can campaign recognizes that across our society, more needs to be done to re-establish our connection to nature. It seeks to complement the work of groups like Children & Nature Network that lead the way to advance this cause in communities across the country. To accomplish our goals, it is imperative that we bring in new partners to expand the outdoor movement beyond the traditional voices. We welcome your help in that effort as we build a diverse and inclusive movement across the country. 


 Additional Resources

Cities Connecting Children to Nature – C&NN and the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families
NLC and Children & Nature Network Choose Seven Cities for Planning Cohort
Children In Nature Initiative Begins in Madison
Video: Madison Connecting Children and Families to Nature
A Breath of Fresh Air: City of Grand Rapids Aims to Reconnect Children with Nature

C&NN Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities
Building a National Movement for Green Schoolyards in Every Community report and infographics

C&NN Natural Leaders
MAKING FRESH TRACKS: Natural Leaders from the Arctic Circle and Urban Los Angeles Partner Up
Fresh Tracks video capturing participants’ voices from the August experience
Forging Fresh Tracks

WHY I WEAR JORDANS IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A Natural Leader Builds Bridges Between Worlds

C&NN Natural Families
C&NN’s Nature Clubs for Families Tool Kit in Spanish
C&NN’s Natural Leaders Tool Kit in Spanish
C&NN’s Nature Clubs for Families Tool Kit in Simple Chinese
C&NN’s Nature Clubs for Families Tool Kit in Traditional Chinese

C&NN International Conference
Dr. Gail Christopher speaking on children, nature, and equity
at the 2016 C&NN Children & Nature Conference

Link to C&NN’s Research Library

Essays from the New Nature Movement about Nature, Equity and Peace among People
THE NATURE OF EQUITY: An Interview with Dr. Gail Christopher
RESTORING PEACE: Six Ways Nature in Our Lives Can Reduce the Violence in Our World
PEACE LIKE A RIVER: There’s a Time for Hyper-vigilance and a Time to Pay a Different Kind of Attention
THE WILD: An African American Environmentalist Faces Her Fear
ALL CHILDREN NEED NATURE: 12 Questions about Equity and Capacity
THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NATURE: New Generation Works for Human Right to Connect with Natural World
ALL CHILDREN NEED NATURE: Three Major Advances at IUCN World Congress
SAVING THE FIELD OF DREAMS: Natural Cultural Capacity in Our Parks
BROTHER YUSUF’S GIFT: One Man Who Made a Difference


BALM IN GILEAD: Racism as an Environmental Issue, Nature as a Healing Force

Breaking Down Racial Hierarchy, by Gail Christopher in The Saint Louis American
Black hikers break the ‘green ceiling’ and clear a path for nature enthusiasts
Coalition Pushes for Diversity at National Parks
Outdoor Afro Busting Stereotypes that Blacks Don’t Hike or Camp

Outdoor Afro
Latino Outdoors
Concerns of Police Survivors Kids Camp
Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK)
Wilderness Inquiry

Commentaries here and elsewhere on the C&NN website are offered
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