NHS tells suppliers to cut their carbon footprint

Supply chain support 'vital' to achieving net-zero carbon goal

Currently, health systems account for around 4.6% of worldwide carbon emissions
Currently, health systems account for around 4.6% of worldwide carbon emissions

The NHS is putting increased pressure on its 80,000-plus

suppliers to reduce the impact their businesses have on the environment as part of its aim to reach net-zero emissions by 2040.

The health service is already the first medical system in the world to pledge to go carbon neutral, with all UK governments this week agreeing to the commitment.

And it is now upping the pressure on its suppliers to follow suit.

In an open letter to the BMJ, independent charity, the Health Foundation, and EAT, the non-profit science-based global platform for food system transformation, have called on the NHS supply chain to act now and commit to working with the NHS to decarbonise their operations by 2045 at the latest. 

Net-zero ambitions

The health service has already committed to reaching net-zero carbon by 2040 for its own emissions.

But nearly two thirds of its carbon footprint resides in its global supply chain.

The letter to BMJ.com said: “We understand that taking action on this agenda is complex, not least because our supply chains are global.

“It will require strong leadership, bold commitments, and a clear roadmap with intermediate targets.

“But it is critical if we are to support a healthier planet and healthier people.”

Early signatories include Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, GSK, Apple, AstraZeneca, BT Group, Smith+Nephew, and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. 

Supermarket giants

And the move comes as bosses at some of Britain’s biggest supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, M&S and the Co-op – pledged to halve their impact on the natural world. 

The stores will be taking action to combat the destruction of forests for food crops in order to protect wildlife.

They will also be making a switch to green power, reducing emissions, and cutting food waste.

Last week all four UK health services united to commit to net-zero carbon emissions.

As a health community, we cannot simply sit on the sidelines – we must respond to climate change through urgent action, with global collaboration at its core

This ambitious move is happening alongside 47 other countries – including the United States and Germany – who are pledging landmark commitments to develop climate-resilient, sustainable, low-carbon health systems.

Currently, health systems are substantial sources of greenhouse gas emissions – accounting for around 4.6% of the worldwide total – meaning if they were one country, health systems would be the fifth-largest emitter.

And the impacts of climate change represent the biggest public health challenge of this century, which could be felt around the world through greater water and food insecurity, extreme weather events, and an increase in infectious diseases.

Global collaboration

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “As a health community, we cannot simply sit on the sidelines – we must respond to climate change through urgent action, with global collaboration at its core.

“I am delighted that all four UK health services are pledging to become net zero and it is brilliant news that dozens of countries have joined the UK in committing to reduce carbon emissions from their health systems – significantly cutting greenhouse gas output around the world.”

In England, measures will include the adoption of a zero-emissions ambulance fleet, £330m investment in climate-smart healthcare and low-carbon hospitals, and the publication of a new net-zero healthcare building standard.

While, in Scotland, the Government has committed to actions including the development of a Climate Emergency and Sustainability Strategy and net-zero roadmaps for all 22 health boards.

The Welsh Government has announced its ambition for the public sector to be collectively net zero by as early as 2030, with planned interventions including upgrading all lighting to LED and introducing low-carbon heating in all new-build developments.

And, in Northern Ireland, a sustainable and low-carbon health system will be developed, with an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and subsequent action plan drawn up for the whole health and social care system.

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