- 08 November 2021
- 6 min read
Greener Healthcare – Together We Can Make A Difference
With the eyes of the world currently fixed on COP26 in Glasgow, it seems like a good time to write something around what reducing the carbon footprint means for the health sector.
Topics covered in this article
Understanding The Problem
Healthcare organisations face an exciting but uncertain future.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not yet behind us, the climate crisis will also have significant impact on how healthcare is organised, models of care are shifting and we see an increased digitalisation across the sector, this complex mix of changes and uncertainty will influence the organisation as a whole.
In January 2020, the NHS launched the campaign ‘For a greener NHS’.
In this campaign they announced their ambitious plan to become the world’s first 'net zero' national health service.
The timing could not have been worse since less than a week later the WHO declared COVID-19 a global health emergency.
This has and continues to have a significant impact on our lives and on our businesses.
With the arrival of the pandemic, we also saw that together, in a time of crisis, we can make changes happen much more quickly.
Let us hold on to this hopeful and positive thought when we think about the difficult changes we face when it comes to reducing our carbon emissions.
While this is daunting, it is also exciting and, if achieved, the future will be bright.
What strategies do we see when it comes to reducing the carbon footprint in the NHS?
A detailed plan can be viewed on the england.nhs.uk/greenernhs/ webpage in a 76-page-long report called Delivering ‘a Net Zero’ National Health Service.
The National Health Service accounts for around 4% of the total carbon footprint of the UK and therefore plays a significant role in the reduction of the carbon footprint of the UK as a whole.
This ambitious target has been divided into two stages.
For emissions the NHS directly controls, they call this the NHS Carbon Footprint, the target is to be Net Zero by 2040.
The Practicalities Of Change
What does this mean in a practical sense?
To understand that I will have to explain a bit how emissions are being measured.
For this we need to go back to the late 1990’s.
The World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) started to realise there was a need to standardise the way businesses calculate their emissions.
Together with large corporate partners such as BP and General Motors, in 1998 WRI published a report called, “Safe Climate, Sound Business.”
It identified an action agenda to address climate change that included the need for standardized measurement of GHG (Greenhouse Gas Emissions) emissions.
In the years following this the protocol has been revised and other measuring tools have sprung up.
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All in all, it has yet to become a simple way for business to measure their emission.
Many companies are capitalising on this and in my current position as an intern for the Devon Care Home collaborative, I have learned that companies charge as much as £6,000 to do this calculation for you.
But does the planet really benefit from a company that creates nice looking pie charts showing you where your company emits CO2 into the atmosphere?
I doubt it.
The principle of knowing where your carbon footprint is largest, is good.
As Lord Kelvin (yes, the one who ironically gave us a measurement for temperature) said: ‘If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.'
Making It Stick
At the moment, the measuring of this has not been made mandatory for all businesses.
But at the end of last month, the UK announced that it will become the first G20 country to legally force large companies to report their exposure to climate risks.
The mandatory rules will take effect from 6 April 2022 and apply to over 1,300 of the largest UK-registered companies and financial institutions.
This will include banks and insurers, as well as private companies with over 500 employees and £500m in turnover, encouraging them to set out their emission reduction plans and sustainability credentials.
The emissions for business but also for the NHS get dived into 3 categories. Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.
Scope 1 emissions are all emissions directly produced by the day to day running of your business.
For the NHS that means the emissions produced in NHS facilities, anaesthetic gases or the emissions produced by the fleet of their vehicles.
Scope 2 emissions are the emissions produced in the use of the electricity to heat the buildings, run the MRI scanner, or the air-conditioning units in the summer.
Scope 3 emissions is everything else, and the most difficult one to influence.
Think about the supply chain, the procurement of the food they serve and the waste they produce.
So, with this I have given you a bit of an overview of what reducing the carbon footprint means to the NHS.
But what does this mean for you as a healthcare worker?
This is where I would like to hear your comments.
What do you think you can do on the work floor to help the NHS reach their target?
A good example comes from the Great Osmond Street Hospital.
Staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital reduced use of plastic gloves, and in doing so saved 21 tonnes of plastic and £90,000.
The team used internal communications channels to raise awareness and developed a training package to reach all their Nursing staff and healthcare assistants.
The project changed behaviour and helped deliver health benefits for staff as well as the environment.
Have you got inspiring ideas?
Please leave your comments below.
Together we can make a difference.