Energy and medical devices among biggest contributors to NHS carbon footprint

12-Dec-2012

New report calls on England\'s NHS trusts to tackle CO2 emissions from purchasing activities

The procurement of medical instruments is responsible for 13% of the total NHS carbon footprint, while gas and electricity use makes up a further 18%, according to new figures released this week.

Research by the NHS Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) in partnership with NHS Shared Business Services (SBS), @UK, and health trusts across England has highlighted the impact NHS procurement has on carbon emissions.

The study allows organisations to identify where to focus in order to reduce both costs and carbon supporting the NHS’s drive to reduce carbon emissions by 10% by 2015

The study follows an investigation in 2010 which showed that the NHS carbon footprint was dominated by procurement, with 65% attributed to the goods and services it purchases.

This latest research aimed to identify the key hotspots within the supply chain, comparing the contribution of 18 categories of goods and services across six NHS organisation types – acute, primary care and community services, mental health, ambulance services, specialist services, and strategic health authorities.

And the results, published this week, show the procurement of pharmaceuticals has the biggest impact, accounting for 22% of the NHS carbon footprint for England. The rate is highest in primary care and community services, which make up 79% of the overall pharmaceuticals footprint.

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Medical instruments contribute 13% to the NHS footprint in England with most of this – 75% - coming from acute services and a further 13% from the primary and community care sector. Building energy use – primarily gas and electricity – is 18%, also highest in acute services. Of this figure, 51% of the footprint comes from electricity consumption and around 45% from gas use.

Business services make up a total of 9%, with most of this coming from the acute sector.

Commenting on the findings, David Pencheon, director of the SDU, said: “The study allows organisations to identify where to focus in order to reduce both costs and carbon supporting the NHS’s drive to reduce carbon emissions by 10% by 2015. The results show the importance of the pharmaceuticals, medical instruments and energy sectors.”

Understanding where to start in trying to reduce carbon through procurement has proved to be a significant challenge for the NHS given the large and diverse range of goods and services procured

David Wathey, head of sustainable procurement at the Department of Health, added: “Understanding where to start in trying to reduce carbon through procurement has proved to be a significant challenge for the NHS given the large and diverse range of goods and services procured.

“This study provides greater clarity for different types of NHS organisation on where to focus their efforts.”

Entitled Goods and Services Carbon Hotspots , the 40-page report warns that these figures will contribute to the overall carbon output of the newly-formed GP clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). As such, they will have to take the lead when it comes to reducing the NHS’s carbon use.

The document states: “Given that the majority of acute, mental health and ambulance services are commissioned these contribute to the carbon footprint for CCGs. The greatest improvements in sustainability are through an analysis of the whole impact and services commissioned from acute, mental health and ambulance services are therefore included in the carbon footprint for commissioning organisations.

“Commissioned services are at least 63% of the footprint for commissioning organisations, with procurement carbon footprint contributing a further 34%, making low carbon commissioning and procurement crucial for carbon reduction in commissioning organisations.

Commissioned services are at least 63% of the footprint for commissioning organisations, with procurement carbon footprint contributing a further 34%, making low carbon commissioning and procurement crucial for carbon reduction in commissioning organisations

The average carbon footprint for an NHS acute trust in England is currently around 70 ktCO2e, excluding patient, visitor and staff travel; while the average level among the 212 CCGs is around 93 ktCO2e, including commissioning from acute, mental health and ambulance sectors. In mental health trusts the average is 27 ktCO2e, while ambulance services generate around 42 ktCO2e each.

Commenting on the impact of the study on the NHS, the report states: “The cutting-edge research contained in this report will only be of value if it is used for decision making.

“NHS organisations have an opportunity to quantify the scale of their procurement carbon footprint much more easily given this information. Combining procurement data with building energy use for different organisation types gives an indication of the relative scale of emissions in these areas.

“Adding information about the travel carbon footprint would provide comparison with the NHS England pie chart showing building energy use, travel and procurement.

NHS organisations have an opportunity to quantify the scale of their procurement carbon footprint much more easily given this information

“Organisations can then use this information to quantify and estimate their carbon footprint. The organisation carbon footprint can be used to compare with peers, compare with a more detailed calculation, and to identify areas for action.”

One of the recommendations following on from the report is the need to produce a tool to estimate and quantify the carbon footprint for different types of NHS organisation based on operating expenditure, non-pay spend and level of activity. Another is a tool for benchmarking carbon footprints for organisations based on activity levels.

It states: “In addition, further research could build on this report, for example more robust research into the footprint of patient care, such as interventions and diagnostics. The NHS England carbon footprint could also be updated with the latest international expenditure and carbon intensity factors.”

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