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The Climate Crisis is a Health Crisis

The 8th July is Sustainability Day of Action, a nationwide celebration of the NHS’s commitment to a greener future. In October 2020, the NHS became the world’s first health service to commit to reaching carbon net zero, a response to the ever-growing threat to health posed by the climate crisis.


Extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and deteriorating air quality are not just environmental issues but threats to public health. The NHS, as the backbone of UK healthcare, is uniquely positioned to address this dual crisis, both by mitigating its own environmental impact and by preparing for the health challenges posed by a changing climate.


The NHS is currently responsible for approximately 4 – 5% of the UK’s carbon emissions, making it a critical player in the nation’s journey to Net Zero. Two clear targets have been outlined in the ‘Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ National Health Service report’ in line with this overarching aim. The first of these targets was for emissions the NHS can control directly (i.e., the NHS Carbon Footprint), for which they will reach net zero by 2040, with an ambition of 80% reduction between 2028 and 2032. The other target was for the emissions the NHS can influence, and for these, they will reach net zero by 2045, with ambitions to reach 80% reduction between 2036 and 2039.


Achieving these targets requires several strategies, including:

    

  • Sustainable Healthcare Delivery: Integrating sustainability into clinical practice by reducing waste, improving energy efficiency, and embracing digital healthcare solutions where appropriate.

  • Greening the NHS estate: retrofitting buildings, investing in renewable energy, and ensuring new constructions are energy efficient.

  • Sustainable Procurement: Collaborating with suppliers to reduce emissions across the supply chain.

  • Staff Engagement: Empowering NHS staff to contribute to sustainability efforts through education and engagement.

A way forward

One of Genee’s clients, The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was the first healthcare organisation in the world to declare a climate emergency in 2019, in recognition of the threat to public health and resources. The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has developed a pathway to net zero, part of which is supported by undertaking the Investors in the Environment accreditation scheme.

Genee delivers Investors in the Environment (iiE), a nationally recognised environmental accreditation scheme. Investors in the Environment is a staged approach to environmental action, which provides tools and accredited training for organisations to take action to reduce their environmental impact; demonstrate progress through the iiE framework; protect biodiversity through nature-based projects; set net zero targets; and receive recognition for their achievements.

The iiE process helps organisations examine their resource use, determine which resources are contributing the most to their footprint, and set targets to reduce these. As well as this, the iiE framework provides a structured approach to environmental action, acknowledging that whilst reducing resource use is a big piece of the puzzle, this needs to be formalised into action plans, policies and communication strategies to ensure the effectiveness of any environmental action within an organisation.

The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has applied several initiatives that demonstrate how healthcare providers can contribute to environmental stewardship. From implementing a comprehensive waste management system to reduce waste and increase recycling and reuse; to working with suppliers to reduce emissions across their supply chain and enhancing the green spaces; and promoting biodiversity on Trust properties, Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is embedding sustainability across the organisation.

By working with the Investors in the Environment programme, the Trust has adopted a structured approach to environmental management, which involves setting clear environmental targets, developing action plans, and regularly reviewing progress to ensure continuous improvement.

Sustainability Manager at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Anna-Lisa Mills, said “Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has set an ambitious Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan. Working with Genee and the iiE scheme has helped us to further develop our environmental management system within the trust and get an outside perspective on how we are measuring, reporting, and reducing our impacts. Achieving silver was a great achievement for the team, and we look forward to working towards green accreditation within the coming year.”

As part of this agenda within the Trust, there will be a Newcastle Hospitals Annual Sustainable Supplier Event on the 18th July 2024, a practical session to encourage a collaborative approach to the Hospitals’ ambitious targets for Net Zero, Clean Air and Zero Waste. Genee will be presenting to share how Investors in the Environment can support the Trust's suppliers on their Net Zero journeys.

Next steps

While the NHS’s commitment to sustainability is commendable, there are significant challenges to overcome. Healthcare organisations are facing the constant challenge of delivering cost savings whilst ensuring a high standard of patient care. However, using the Investors in the Environment structure, Genee can help healthcare organisations find savings by monitoring resource use, in tandem with reducing their environmental impacts.

Despite these challenges, the imperative to act is clear. The health impacts of climate change are immediate and significant, and our healthcare system in the UK has both a responsibility and an opportunity to lead by example. By embedding sustainability into their operations, the NHS not only contributes to the UK’s Net Zero targets but also ensures a healthier future for generations to come.

The commitment and innovations of organisations like the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust provides hope and a clear path forward. The climate crisis is a health crisis, and the NHS is uniquely positioned to be a catalyst for this change.

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