Climate change: time for action

by Mark Knight

01 November 2021

As leaders from across the world gather at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), it is clear the NHS will need to make a big contribution to meeting the UK’s targets. And the HFMA also has a role in supporting environmental sustainability in the NHS.

The HFMA takes environmental sustainability very seriously – both in terms of the services we provide and helping our members to reduce the environmental impact of their organisations.

Our aim is to provide our range of services to members in the most environmentally sustainable manner possible. We strive to continually improve environmental performance wherever practicable and prevent pollution by reducing the environmental impacts associated with our operations.

You will have noticed some of the changes we have made over recent years – such as the switch from plastic to recyclable packaging of Healthcare Finance, and the use of an environmentally friendly printing process, or the use of glass bottles and Forest Stewardship Council pencils provided at our conference centre, 110 Rochester Row. To find out more about the full range of our activities, read HFMA’s environmental sustainability statement.

At our upcoming annual conference, Reimagining the future, we will be: encouraging exhibitors to reduce their paper and plastic offering; reducing the paper in the delegate bags; increasing the use of the HFMA events app to reduce the paper on seats and tables; and using environmentally sourced paper where paper is considered essential.

This year, the conference will be hosted as a hybrid event, allowing finance professionals to meet again face-to-face, while also enabling more colleagues than ever to get involved without increasing the level of travel. I look forward to seeing many of you in person and online.

The HFMA will be publishing ‘green pledges’ throughout the COP26 period. These pledges are brief statements from our members or staff to state what they will be doing, personally or professionally, to help tackle the climate crisis. Hopefully, this will encourage our wider audience to consider their own environmental impacts and what they can do to contribute to a more sustainable future.

The impact on the environment is also at the forefront of our minds as we develop our new headquarters in Bristol. We have pledged to embed sustainability during its refurbishment and are implementing a number of specific measures:

  • having 50% fewer desks than in our current headquarters. This encourages hot-desking and reduces the number of staff commuting to work.
  • there is a cycle-to-work scheme in place for the staff who will be commuting. Staff members are continually encouraged to use a sustainable mode of transport to get to work.
  • installing a mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) system to provide fresh filtered air into the building, while retaining most of the energy that has already been used in heating the building. In the summer, night-time air will be used to cool the building for the daytime. As well as being energy efficient, the MVHR system will keep the air fresher and healthier indoors.
  • lighting will use motion sensors to maximise energy efficiency by ensuring that lights are only on when necessary.

In addition to this, the HFMA pledges to host at least 50% of its committee meetings virtually to cut down on travel required by members and staff. The HFMA has invested in technology to allow hybrid conferences, webinars, and virtual meetings.

Members of the HFMA’s Environmental Sustainability Special Interest Group (ESSIG) have also been making their own green pledges from increased cycling to meat free days – watch out for these on our social media posts throughout COP26. 

The HFMA’s ESSIG is one of our particularly passionate committees. It works to highlight good practice in embedding environmental sustainability in the NHS, providing a link to key guidance in its Environmental sustainability guidance map; regular round-ups; and good practice examples.

In October 2020, NHS England and NHS Improvement set out the aim for the NHS to be the world’s first net zero health service as part of its Greener NHS programme. Within the national framework, each NHS trust and integrated care system should have a green plan by early next year, setting out how they will deliver carbon reduction.

In a recent HFMA webinar, Sustainability and savings through the green plan: lessons from Cornwall, colleagues shared their experiences – good and bad – of developing their green plan and introducing changes following their trust’s declaration of a climate emergency.

Environmental sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have’ goal, but a core component part of everything we do. NHS finance professionals have a key role in driving and supporting carbon reducing proposals by ensuring this is engrained into decision-making. This role was explored in the recent HFMA blog, Driving environmental sustainability – where to start?

Over the next two weeks, and beyond, the HFMA will release a number of environmental sustainability outputs, which aim to provide inspiration. These will include sustainability top tips for finance, procurement and biodiversity….so watch out for these.  

At the moment, the NHS is facing pressures on all fronts – winter pressures; increasing Covid-19 cases; a huge backlog; as well as legislative change. However, it is clear that the climate challenge is the greatest public health challenge we face.

With the backdrop of COP26, it is time to turn words into action. Actions could involve individual changes, such as choosing to drive an electric car (I love mine), or organisation- and system-wide schemes, such as those supporting cycling, recycling or improving the NHS estate. They will all contribute to the solution. I encourage you to make your own green pledge today.  

There are some fantastic examples of people making a real difference across the country. If you want to share what you are doing over the next two weeks, or to suggest ways the HFMA could further improve its impact on the environment, e-mail us on