Sustainability – wider than finance

by Sandra Easton

14 March 2019

Finance practitioners need to be more aware of work to deliver services that are sustainable for the long-term

The HFMA’s Environmental Sustainability Committee is three years old. It started with an invitation from the Prince of Wales’ accounting for sustainability project to increase the engagement of NHS finance staff with the sustainability agenda. Despite the committee’s existence coinciding with three of the toughest financial years the NHS has ever seen, the focus on short term recovery and meeting the day-to day-challenges has not deterred the group’s enthusiasm for addressing wider sustainability issues.

As we look to transform services to meet demand over the long-term, environmental sustainability is something that finance staff are going to have to increasingly get to grips with. This will involve learning a whole new language and understanding data beyond the pound signs in pursuit of sustainable initiatives.

The NHS long term plan highlighted the significant progress being made in sustainable development and reducing the use of natural resources in recent years. Between 2010 and 2015 health and social care water consumption was reduced by 15%. And since 2007, the carbon footprint has reduced by 19% despite a 27% increase in activity.

But there is still more to do. And the committee is well placed to use the valuable connections it has already established to increase awareness, showcase good practice and influence policy strategy in environmental sustainability. It can also support some of the specific aims of the long-term plan, including:

  • By 2020, reduce the NHS’ carbon footprint by a third from 2007 levels – in part by improving energy efficiency through LED lighting and smart energy measurement.
  • Reduce air pollution from all sources, specifically cut business miles and fleet air pollutant emissions by 20% by 2023/24 – through improvements in estate and NHS fleet management.

The committee is currently discussing NHS bodies as anchor organisations – these are organisations that have a big enough impact on their local areas that they can leverage their assets to create conditions of health and prosperity for their populations. It has recently discussed United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) and how they can be incorporated into strategies and business plans. We’ve also heard about the work that Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust is doing around sustainable communities and modern slavery.

Being on an HFMA committee where the accountants are currently in the minority has made us all conscious that there is a lot of work taking place outside of the finance department that we need to be more aware of.

Often it goes beyond the boundaries of a single NHS organisation and looks at the need to work together as part of a much bigger system, including local authorities, other government bodies and third sector partners. It also makes us more aware of how environmental sustainability can reduce the causes of ill-health rather than be influenced by the treatment of it. 

Sandra Easton is stepping down as chair of the Environmental Sustainability Committee after three years in the role. Anyone interested in joining or chairing the committee should contact