Our guidance affects the way that health and care is delivered. And the way that healthcare services are delivered has an impact on the environment.
What we mean by sustainability
Sustainability is about assessing and reducing the environmental impact of applying our recommendations, when possible.
Environmental impacts arise from production of healthcare materials and from healthcare provision itself. These impacts include:
- greenhouse gas emissions
- air pollution
- water pollution (including with chemicals and pharmaceuticals)
- waste production.
These contribute to increases in:
- the severity and frequency of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases
- deaths related to adverse weather events (such as flooding)
- deaths due to extreme hot and cold weather.
Commissioners and providers have a responsibility to promote a sustainable health and care system. Changes can be made to improve the sustainability of services and patient care.
To deliver our ambition, we will lead globally on the potential to include environmental impact data in our guidance to reduce the carbon footprint of health and care.
Our commitment to sustainability
In 2011, the government made a commitment to include sustainability in all it does, setting targets to reduce emissions across all departments.
We adhere to these 'Greening Government Commitments' to:
- reduce carbon emissions
- minimise waste
- reduce water use
- make sustainable choices about procurement
- support biodiversity and nature recovery
- adapt to climate change
- reduce the environmental impacts of digital working.
We report our progress in these 7 areas to the board annually.
Our work supports:
- The government's commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
- The NHS's commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040 for direct emissions and 2045 for indirect emissions.
And in 2021, we pledged to explore ways to incorporate environmental impact data in our guidance.
The environmental impact of our guidance
We're engaging academic partners to help us develop a framework for quantifying environmental sustainability information. We intend to publish this information alongside our recommendations.
In the future, our committees will use the information to inform their decision making. And it will provide a basis for healthcare providers and patients to consider environmental impact in shared decision making.
Including environmental impact data in our guidance will send an important message. It will show manufacturers, distributors and providers that sustainability is a priority for the NHS.
We recognise that our guidance only impacts some health technologies used in the NHS. We want to develop a framework that can also be used by system partners, such as NHS Supply Chain.
We'll work closely with partners to ensure our environmental sustainability work complements other similar work undertaken across the healthcare landscape.
Why sustainability is important
There is lots of evidence supporting the need to improve sustainability in health and social care. This is for the wider environmental benefit and to improve social and financial sustainability.
- If the global healthcare sector were a country, it would be the fifth largest contributor to climate change (Health care climate footprint report).
- The NHS is responsible for over 5% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions.
- Resources from Greener NHS show how commissioners and providers have reduced environmental impact by improving care pathways and avoiding waste.