David Newell, Head of Health at Gemserv, explores the challenges the health sector faces in achieving net zero and what still needs to be done. Most ensure that reducing emissions is an absolute priority for their own operations, governments, and businesses across all industries.
Rising global temperatures will lead to water shortages, food insecurity, extreme weather conditions, and an increase in infectious diseases. Global health systems must adapt to provide quality services and respond to these ever-changing circumstances.
The NHS pledged two years ago this month to become net zero by 2045, aiming to eliminate its own direct emissions by the year 20.
and its indirect emissions by 2040 through goods and services bought from partners and suppliers.
It was an ambitious goal, but what has been achieved since then?
NHS Net Zero: Progress
In October 2021, the NHS announced that it planned to reduce its total emissions by 1,260 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (ktCO2e) in 2021–2022, helping it achieve its goal of becoming a carbon net. one year after announcing your intention.
These expected reductions were mostly related to changes and investments secured in the company’s own operations and practices, including energy efficiency and low-carbon heating system reforms, travel reduction and electrification, and the transition from high-carbon anesthesia.
By January 2022, all trusts had green plans, and on July 1, the NHS became the first health system to introduce zero into legislation under the Health and Care Act 2022. It will translate into law the aims and guidance of the report from the Zero Charge National Health Service for all integrated care systems, NHS providers, and suppliers.
NHS will also launch the Evergreen Sustainable Supplier Assessment for its 80,000 suppliers in early 2023. Although not yet mandatory, this assessment aims to assess where suppliers are on the sustainability and net zero journeys, scoring them from 0 (minimum compliance) to 3 (sustainability leaders). More than 50 providers are currently testing the assessment in the system.
Healthcare industry Difficulties in Achieving Net Zero
Getting and staying on the path to net zero is difficult for a number of reasons. Despite many advances in incorporating sustainable healthcare practices, many hospitals have not yet sufficiently reduced their carbon footprint. For example, Newcastle Hospitals highlights this in their 2021–22 annual sustainability report. The report points to the challenge of reducing overall emissions as activity increases, driven by increased demand for health services and congestion exacerbated by the pandemic.
It calls for action beyond the trust and looks at the need for further support to remove systemic barriers to change, without which it will be impossible for Newcastle and the wider NHS to get to zero.
On the provider side, meeting the short-term net tax roadmap schedule and requirements is also a challenge.
By April 2023, 500 suppliers bidding on contracts worth £5m will have to report “direct” emissions (Scopes 1 and 2) and some subset of indirect emissions (Scope 3).
What has to happen to get to net zero?
In 2021, a year after the strategy was published, NHS England adopted an action plan outlining net zero delivery to providers between now and 2030. The roadmap includes steps such as providers having to publish a carbon reduction plan and publicly report on all targets. While goals are a great first step, the challenge is how to meet those commitments.
1. Alignment of global and national stakeholders
Alignment of international healthcare supply chains is an important step for the NHS to achieve its climate goals. However, pressure is needed to ensure that concrete actions are implemented. Suppliers must first assess their own emissions and then begin to accurately capture emissions (Scope 3), and they need expert advice on strategies to do so.
Stakeholder engagement and participation greatly support adaptation efforts. Therefore, it is important to understand who the most important stakeholders are and what their interests, responsibilities, and positions are in order to develop an appropriate stakeholder management strategy.
2. Improvement of existing building infrastructure
The health and social care system is currently associated with significant resource use and carbon emissions, accounting for approximately
-5% of England’s carbon footprint Achieving the targets will therefore require significant improvements to existing buildings and infrastructure and ensuring that new hospitals meet net-zero plans.
It is important to introduce technologies such as heat pumps, fuel cells, biomass, and heat networks, but this requires maintaining and increasing existing financial flows to bring these innovations to existing buildings and infrastructures. Replacing boilers with heat pumps is a significant investment, and with the transition to electrified vehicles, construction sites may be required to increase electrical capacity.
Climate change is one of the biggest problems facing society today, and the solution will not be easy. To achieve zero targets, the government must work with healthcare innovators to make the NHS vision a reality. The time for change is here, and we must seize the opportunity before it is too late.