An illuminating online event demonstrated how the NHS can lead the way in achieving net zero carbon emissions
"The NHS has already successfully reduced carbon emissions by action such as introducing virtual appointments, migrating to cloud computing and using SMS messaging rather than paper letters for appointments." Greg Allen, CEO, FCC
Yesterday, we ran another of our series of FCC online events, this time a COP26 fringe event exploring the interaction between health, climate and technology. This follows recent and ongoing research we have been conducting in partnership with the NHSX AI Lab.
Our excellent group of panellists discussed and debated questions such as ‘what is the climate impact of technology development for health and care?’ and ‘How can technology be used in health and care settings to reduce impact on climate?’
We know that the NHS has committed to achieving net zero by 2045. This is an ambitious target, and an important step in the right direction.
I would argue that technology has an important role to play in helping the NHS achieve net zero. NHSX has done very useful work in building sustainability into its ‘What Good Looks Like’ framework.
The NHS has already successfully reduced carbon emissions by action such as introducing virtual appointments, migrating to cloud computing and using SMS messaging rather than paper letters for appointments. The pandemic also added an urgency to this sort of action being taken.
Although there are significant challenges in reaching net zero, speakers at our COP26 fringe event recognised that there are real opportunities for the NHS to lead the way. This is for two reasons. One is that the NHS is widely respected (a poll shows that 87% of people take pride in the NHS), so if the NHS leads the way on reducing carbon emissions, others will follow suit. The other is that the NHS is a major procurer at scale. So, it can put pressure on suppliers to adopt practices to reduce carbon emissions, which will then have a knock-on effect in terms of follow-on action by other industries.
Not all cloud computing suppliers are transparent about emissions: Microsoft Azure, for example, has a sustainability calculator, but others are less open about how much carbon they’re emitting. However, the NHS can encourage digital providers to be more transparent by using a pre-existing process such as the science-based target initiative (SBTi) process or the carbon disclosure project (CDP) process.
Similarly, although all the major tech companies have set net zero targets, we have to be aware that some companies are guilty of greenwashing (using offsets to meet those targets). The NHS can set high standards for procurement and require suppliers not to rely too heavily on offsets. Companies will come to realise that there are reputational risks to greenwashing.
Although none of this is going to be easy, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic. The NHS has the opportunity to lead society towards net zero, and it is gathering the tools to do that.