Delivering a net zero carbon NHS

by Kim Croasdale

15 October 2020

Earlier this month the NHS became the world’s first national health service to commit to reach net zero carbon. Most would agree that this is an incredibly challenging target but one we must meet, and the NHS can lead the way.

Alongside the Covid-19 health emergency, the NHS also needs to respond to the health emergency that climate change brings. The response will need to be embedded into everything we do, now and in the future. As Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said, ’While the NHS is already a world leader in sustainability, as the biggest employer in this country and comprising nearly a tenth of the UK economy, we’re both part of the problem and part of the solution.’

The Delivering a ‘net zero’ National Health Service report provides a detailed account of the latest NHS carbon footprint, trajectories to net zero and the interventions required to achieve that ambition. It lays out the direction, scale and pace of change for reducing the carbon footprint by 2040 for emissions the NHS controls directly, and by 2045 for those the NHS influences. But the report will not just sit on a virtual shelf – it will be used as a basis for engagement over the coming months with further commitments to be published throughout 2021. It is vital all NHS staff are involved and engaged in this agenda.

This is a key area of focus for the HFMA’s Environmental Sustainability Special Interest Group, whose aim is to promote and embed best practice within the NHS by linking the financial and sustainability agendas.

At our recent group meeting we had a presentation from Salix Finance, who will be delivering the new £1bn Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme. NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts are eligible for grants across four categories of capital energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation projects. They can also apply for grants to obtain the skills to identify programmes and prepare applications through the Public Sector Low Carbon Skills Fund. Applications need to be made by 11 January 2021 for projects to be completed by September 2021.

With 1.3 million staff in the NHS, we have a huge opportunity to make a difference. Across a whole range of programmes – from fleet management to single use plastics to greening our estates and facilities – we can build on the great work being done. We need to share ideas on how to reduce the impact on public health and the environment, save money and, eventually, get to net zero.

NHS finance staff are essential to make this happen, by bringing people together across organisations, and providing support and analysis to help finance direct interventions.  Importantly finance staff can help take national strategy and tailor it for local conversations to drive local plans. As a starting point, How to produce a green plan is a helpful guide produced to support organisations to take a coordinated, strategic and action-orientated approach to sustainability.

We know the changing climate is directly impacting people’s health. It is leading to more frequent heatwaves and extreme weather events such as flooding as well as being closely linked with air pollution and the potential spread of infectious diseases to the UK.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us how quickly we can all respond and adapt to a health emergency. We must continue to show leadership and address the NHS’s own environmental impact. By leading the way, we will help tackle the climate and health emergency.

Ms Croasdale is also a member of the HFMA Environmental Sustainability Special Interest Group. The group is looking to increase the representation of NHS finance practitioners. If you have an interest in environmental sustainability and want to find out more about the group, please e-mail