Green for go

by Sandra Easton

15 June 2018

All NHS staff need to take their growing green credentials to work and finance staff have some specific roles to play.

Many of us watched the BBC The Blue Planet and resolved to use less plastic. We sort our waste into recycling bins at home without a second thought these days. And some of us have solar panels on our roof. But do we carry our green credentials into our working life?

The HFMA has run an Environmental Sustainability Special Interest Group since November 2015. It started in style, its very first meeting was at St James’ Palace at the invitation of the Prince of Wales’ Accounting for Sustainability project. To be honest, it has struggled to find traction in the finance community and we understand the reasons for this. For many finance staff, the focus is on staying within this month’s budget and meeting this year’s control total.

It is a problem that the environmental challenge faces more broadly – long term benefits being overlooked in the face of short-term pressures. However, the environmental agenda is simply too important to be pushed to one side and, as 25-29 June is the sustainable health and care week, it seems the right time to raise the profile of the HFMA’s group and the finance community’s environmental responsibilities.

The week is just one part of a wider Sustainable Health and Care Campaign being run by the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) and NHS Employers. The week is intended to focus on sustainable health and care interventions for the NHS, social care and public health and deliver environmental, social and health benefits. Each day there is a focus on a different theme:

Monday – waste and resources

Tuesday – travel

Wednesday – community

Thursday – innovation and technology

Friday – green space

Follow the week and the wider campaign on the NHS Employers’ website and get involved. One way of getting involved more generally would be to join the HFMA’s environment group, which is actively looking for members. We meet four times a year and at least two of these meetings are by phone to reduce travelling.

It is all too easy to say that this is someone else’s responsibility. Clearly many ‘environmental’ initiatives relate to estates – new and efficient boilers, LED lighting and so on. But it is important to get everyone in all NHS bodies involved – it is not up to estates teams to turn off all of the lights in the same way that it is not up to the finance team to find all of the cost savings.

And, given projects can have a very positive effect on both the environment and the bottom line, finance do have a specific interest and some very specific roles.

These can include working alongside estates colleagues and others to develop business cases, exploring opportunities for funding and looking for ways to improve environmental performance – examples of which are strewn across the NHS.

It is not always easy to work out how to make steps in the right direction and, as finance staff, we don’t always know the best place to look. This is illustrated by one of the pieces of work that the group is developing – a case study in relation to fuel poverty and the impact on NHS bodies.

The HFMA group discusses very diverse issues that fit well with the NHS’s current focus on working together and at scale. At the most recent meeting we discussed the work that NHS Improvement’s estates and facilities team are doing in relation to energy efficiency -- developing NHS finance guidance and training for estates staff.

But we also looked at the work being done by Surrey and East Sussex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership to contract at an STP-wide level for waste, energy and courier services, which aims to make savings in money and environmental terms.

The diverse range of topics discussed continued with: the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals; the work done by North West Ambulance Service on energy contracts; crowd funding initiatives; a hypothetical case study on hypothermia that led to a discussion of real examples where the issues of cold had been tackled by boilers on prescription; integrated reporting; and NHS bodies as anchor organisations.

If you are interested in getting involved with the discussion and joining our group please contact