Driving environmental sustainability – where to start?

by Lisa Robertson

24 August 2021

‘Urgent action is needed to address climate change or the world will soon face catastrophe’. This warning from Alok Sharma, UK climate minister is echoed in the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Yet, the report makes clear that there is still time to act.

As we countdown to the United Nations climate conference COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November 2021, it is clear that significant and speedy action will be needed by all of us to address the climate emergency. What is also clear is that this action will require some difficult decisions, many of which create financial challenges.  

In the UK, the NHS has committed to its part in taking action, setting two goals in its Delivering a net zero NHS report:

  • The NHS carbon footprint: for the emissions we control directly, net zero by 2040
  • The NHS carbon footprint plus: for the emissions we can influence, net zero by 2045

Each trust and integrated care system should have a green plan, setting out their three-year strategies towards net zero, in place by January 2022 and March 2022 respectively. In the context of recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and existing financial challenges, this will be difficult to achieve. However, there has never been a better opportunity to make required changes to address the climate crisis – the pandemic has shown us that we can do things differently quickly.

Finance professionals have a key role in driving and supporting carbon reducing proposals. With collaborative working and analysis key to this, finance professionals are well placed to bring people together, within organisations and across the wider system. This can facilitate discussion and provide information for decision-making that provides details of the full impact of any decision – financial, social and environmental.

In an earlier blog, NHS sustainability in a changing world, Dave Stacey, chair of HFMA’s Environmental Sustainability Special Interest Group, explored the two questions: where does climate change rank in the complex and increasingly crowded NHS agenda and where do finance professionals fit in?

His special interest group colleague John Williams, from Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, agreed in a subsequent blog, Financial green light that ‘the finance community needs to be at the heart of this agenda’.

It can be difficult to know where to start with what seems like such an enormous and critical ask. With such a wealth of material to help NHS professionals, the HFMA provides a regular environmental sustainability round-up of the latest developments in the NHS and wider finance profession. We have also launched an NHS environmental sustainability guidance map this week to support finance members in developing an effective approach to environmental sustainability. Whatever your level of expertise in this area, the map is intended to be a helpful tool with links to key documents all in one place, split across the three sections: strategic framework; enabling environmental sustainability; and specific examples of environmental sustainability.

Looking back over the last year across a number of HFMA events, we have heard some inspiring stories of the work being done to tackle climate change in the NHS. For example, Joan Saddler, Pam Warhurst and Nigel Acheson covered Climate change and the role of NHS finance; Kim Croasdale and Paul Sharkey spoke of the Green lessons to take forward after Covid-19; and Chris Moreton and John Williams shared their experiences on Sustainable and green approaches to healthcare delivery through cultural change.  

One key advantage we have in the NHS is the ability to learn from each other as we develop our own plans and the HFMA will continue to share examples. Next up, on 10 September, we have a webinar Sustainability and savings through the green plan; lessons from Cornwall, where Roz Davies and Chris Thomas will share the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust’s story so far on a practical way to deliver sustainability while also creating savings. Climate change and the response of the NHS will also feature at the HFMA estates and facilities forum in November.

Delivering change quickly and in an affordable way will be a challenge. Everyone has to play a part in tackling climate change. The NHS finance community has again shown a commitment to do this and, working together, has the opportunity to turn the plans into reality.  

The HFMA’s Environmental Sustainability Special Interest Group works to highlight good practice in embedding environmental sustainability in the NHS and is keen to hear from anyone with examples to share or guidance that could usefully be added to the
NHS environmental sustainability guidance map. If so, please contact lisa.robertson@hfma.org.uk.