We're not net zero until we are all net zero

With COP28 now underway, attention will once again turn to matters of environmental policy and how nations around the world can tackle climate change. Danielle Henry reflects on our own work towards Net Zero with the sector, recent developments, and where we go next.

COP28 kicks off today in Dubai and it might be arguably dramatic to say that the future of the world as we know it rests with the decisions and deals that might be made (or not made) over the next 2 weeks.  

There is plenty of healthy scepticism around COP28 – will it provide impetus for cutting global carbon emissions? Or is it just a talking shop? Or perhaps an opportunity for oil rich countries to do deals (reportedly!)? Whatever your views, it is the opportunity for global leaders to come together once a year and try and drive emissions towards net zero.  

For the independent healthcare sector, the COPs have been a key marker for us and our members (independent healthcare providers) in the collective journey of the sector to net zero.  

At this point, for the uninitiated, it’s probably helpful to get some definitions of what we mean (and I’ll turn to an excellent definition from Deloitte – who we’ve been working with closely, along with the brilliant team at NHS England which has been particularly useful to our smaller and medium sized providers. 

  • Scope 1 emissions— This one covers the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions that a company makes directly — for example while running its boilers and vehicles. 
  • Scope 2 emissions — These are the emissions it makes indirectly – like when the electricity or energy it buys for heating and cooling buildings, is being produced on its behalf. 
  • Scope 3 emissions — Now here’s where it gets tricky. In this category go all the emissions associated, not with the company itself, but that the organisation is indirectly responsible for, up and down its value chain. For example, from buying products from its suppliers, and from its products when customers use them. Emissions-wise, Scope 3 is nearly always the big one. 

So, two years ago, during COP26, we launched the voluntary sector-wide industry commitment of net zero for scope 1 and 2 by 2035 and scope 3 by 2045.  

Most of our members have felt able to sign up with some aiming to be net zero even earlier – by 2030. This commitment was purposely ambitious with providers wanting to go as fast and as far as possible.  

Last year, in line with COP27, we published a one year on report ““Clearing the air – How the independent healthcare sector is working to achieve “net zero” by 2035”, which focussed on the experiences of healthcare providers from across the independent sector in reducing emissions. Even though this is 12 months old, it is still a worthwhile read and is packed full of practical actions that healthcare providers have made to reduce their organisational carbon emissions. 

And all through this time, we have supported providers in two main ways. Firstly, through subject matter expertise predominantly from Deloitte and the brilliant team at NHS England which has been particularly useful to our smaller and medium sized providers.  

Secondly, the sharing of best practice between healthcare providers of practical activities that can be done to reduce emissions is a key component of our work programme – and what I believe our members drive the most benefit from. It is an obvious statement, but we will not achieve the industry commitment until every individual healthcare provider has achieved it – simply put we are not net zero until we are all net zero.   

Much of the support in the first few years has focussed on helping providers on measuring/baselining their organisational emissions as well as practical ways to reduce scope 1 and 2 emissions.  

We’ve also worked to support providers who are part of the NHS England supply chain so that they are fully aware of the timescales and obligations. We now have a library of resources, guides, good practice, interviews and other resources that providers can use, and we will continue to build this.  

Net Zero Conference

A few months ago, we brought our members together for our “net zero conference”, supported by our partners Deloitte, Gemserv and the Medical Defence Union This was the first time we had run an in-person event, but it was well worth it.  

The work programme will continue to support members with subject matter expertise and the sharing of best practice in relation to scope 1 and 2 but we used this event to shift our focus to scope 3 – managing supply chains both upstream and downstream. 

This is arguably where the greatest challenge lies, but that’s not to say it’s insurmountable – we just need to break down the ambition into more achievable intermediate steps – as speakers at our conference, including Jonny Groome, sustainability lead at Nuffield Health and Alex Hammond, lead of sustainability at NHS England, reminded us on the day.  

We looked at how providers can move to more sustainable investments for their pension schemes as well as more generally how providers can support their supply chain to become net zero. And this will make up a substantial part of our work going forward and will continue our work with NHS England and the ABI and the private medical insurers.  

But, in my view, the most powerful part of the conference was hearing from clinicians and employees more generally – the way they are creating change, looking differently at what they do, all whilst maintaining the best possible outcomes for patients. And this clinician-led change is a key part of the solution that will get us all to net zero in health.  

Over the next few days, we’ll be posting some content and reflections from our conference which bring to life some of these issues, questions, advice and thoughts.  

Charlie, one of the newest members of our team, who, like so many of his peer group is passionate about climate change, has written a blog on his thoughts about the work we are doing and his main takeaways from the conference, which we’ll share too. 

Turning again to COP28 – they have given a whole day (Sunday) to discuss health and in particular the health impacts that we are seeing from climate change, and we will be monitoring what they say closely to see what we can learn.  

We believe that the independent health care sector has a unique and key role in reducing carbon emissions and we take our commitment and the work programme seriously.