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The world is undergoing massive atmospheric and ecological change, driving unprecedented challenges to human well-being. Olfaction is a key sensory system through which these impacts occur. The sense of smell influences quality of and satisfaction with life, emotion, emotion regulation, cognitive function, social interactions, dietary choices, stress, and depressive symptoms. Exposures via the olfactory pathway can also lead to (anti-)inflammatory outcomes. Increased understanding is needed regarding the ways in which odorants generated by nature (i.e., natural olfactory environments) affect human well-being. With perspectives from a range of health, social, and natural sciences, we provide an overview of this unique sensory system, four consensus statements regarding olfaction and the environment, and a conceptual framework that integrates the olfactory pathway into an understanding of the effects of natural environments on human well-being. We then discuss how this framework can contribute to better accounting of the impacts of policy and land-use decision-making on natural olfactory environments and, in turn, on planetary health.

Original publication




Journal article


Sci Adv

Publication Date





Humans, Smell, Olfactory Pathways, Odorants, Nature, Environment