Published date: 07 February 2022

Reducing the environmental impact of the NHS estate

Cameron Hawkins, our Head of Energy and Environment, speaks to the National Health Executive about how NHS Property Services are leading the way in reducing the NHS' environmental impact.

This article was originally published in the National Heath Executive's January edition, found here.

As 2022 commences, reducing the environmental impact of the NHS estate has never been higher on NHS Property Services’ (NHSPS) agenda. As owners of approximately 10 per cent of the NHS estate, including hospitals, health centres and clinics, we at NHSPS have an important role in helping the UK’s health services achieve net zero and build climate resilience. The NHS estate is an integral part of the health system’s efforts to become more sustainable and reduce its carbon footprint, as it is responsible for approximately four per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions every year.

As we near the end of our three-year energy and climate strategy launched in 2019, it is important to reflect on our progress thus far. Our strategy included around 200 actions, such as improving transport efficiencies, increasing recycling, reducing waste and single-use plastics, improving water efficiency and, importantly, reducing carbon emission. In our recently published annual report and “Greener NHS Review” we identified substantial improvements that have been made across the estate and ongoing priorities which we will explore further in this article.

Managing our environmental impact

At NHSPS, we recognised that we could not make strides to reduce the environmental impact of the NHS estate without first generating a reliable estimate of our carbon footprint. We have scaled up our data capture and reporting to accurately measure our impact and how this changes year on year compared to our baseline in 2017.

A major achievement last year was the establishment of our Environmental Management System, which encompasses legal requirements, processes, assessment, and reporting components that provide a structured methodology to manage our environmental impact. Our system provides the data that is key to delivering a greener NHS by 2040, by allowing us to monitor our progress and ensuring our continued improvement in reducing the environmental impact of the NHS estate.

Reducing our energy consumption

During the last year, we have seen greater success than ever before in reducing our energy consumption and associated carbon emissions. In 2020/2021, £10.6m and 8,600 tonnes of carbon were saved, meaning a total of £16.6m and 14,300 tonnes has been saved over the last two financial years. This is hugely important not only for our environment, but also as this money can be invested back into the NHS. Since we began monitoring this in 2017/2018, we have reduced energy use by 15% and the carbon intensity of our properties by 16%.

The key to achieving these gains has been the arrangement of a new energy supply deal last year that introduced 100% renewable electricity across our building portfolio. A huge challenge in this was to retain the reliability of our energy supply, ensuring our hospitals and health centres can run uninterrupted 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, as the cost of energy can be difficult to manage. The move to a flexible trading strategy, and the negotiation of these new energy supply contracts, has meant this has been achieved at no additional cost to tenants.

Net Zero new builds

Moving forward, it is equally important to extend the capacity of the NHS estate. This will ensure
that we can accommodate the UK’s ever-growing population and ongoing pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic and help to realise the government’s commitment to build 40 new hospitals by 2030.

We have developed best practices for how this can be achieved sustainably through our experience leading on the development of one of the first net zero health centres in England. Construction began on Devizes Health Centre last year, and once the development is complete this important project will provide space for the Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group to offer primary care to the local community. Heat pumps and solar panels will be among the green technology used at the site and will enable the building to generate its own heating and electricity respectively, leading the way in sustainable design. These renewable technologies are hugely beneficial not only in terms of conserving resources and optimising energy efficiency but are highly reliable and will sustain the site for years to come.

Working priorities

We are passionate about ensuring that this momentum continues, with many future priorities to
continue to reduce the environmental impact of the NHS estate.

For example, we are focusing on working with our construction and maintenance teams to identify where sites that are under development could benefit from a decarbonisation strategy. By having a clear understanding of where we are currently investing into the NHS portfolio, we can see if we can expand the scope to either remove equipment that uses fossil fuels or undertake enabling works that increase the energy efficiency of a site. This ensures that disruption at the site is minimised, project costs are reduced (as project management costs are combined) and our staff become increasingly aware of what they can implement on future projects to help deliver net zero.

We are also increasing our environmental protection work and recently undertook a review of 300 sites to see the effect that long term climate change will have on buildings across the health estate, with winds and storms being the highest risk to our portfolio. Furthermore, it is a great achievement that more than 98% of our waste does not go to landfill. However, there is further need for more communication with occupiers on using the correct bins for their waste and expanding our removal of single use plastics and furniture recycling.

I am proud to reflect on NHSPS’ ongoing work to reduce the environmental impact of the NHS estate. On behalf of myself and the whole NHSPS team, we look forward to reviewing the progress we have made upon the completion of our three-year energy strategy and continuing to work towards securing a sustainable future of the NHS.

Our Greener NHS 2020/21 Review

If you're forming your ICS sustainability strategy, read our Greener NHS 2020/21 Review to find out how we're approaching forming our strategy, progress and next steps.

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