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Net-zero healthcare: is it possible?


The NHS currently produces 5.4% of the UK’s greenhouse gases, which equates to around 25 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. It’s astounding to acknowledge that emissions per patient have fallen by almost two-thirds since 1990, and yet there is still clearly a long way to go. These figures are solely based on the NHS in the UK; elsewhere in the world, there is significantly more progress to be made.

So this begs the question: is net-zero healthcare truly possible? And if so, how can we achieve it? Net-zero targets have to be achieved as all sectors across all disciplines need to collaborate to combat the climate emergency. As the ‘Delivering a Greener NHS’ report states: “The climate emergency is a health emergency [as it] threatens the foundations of good health.” The question of how exactly net-zero can be delivered is slightly more complex.


Written by Nicole Hawkins, Marketing Executive, Lab Innovations

On July 1st 2022, the NHS became the first health system to embed net-zero targets into legislation through the Health and Care Act 2022 aiming to be the world’s first net-zero national health service. This eco-direction is not new to the service; the NHS first implemented a carbon reduction strategy in 2007. Since then, the health and social care sector has cut emissions by 18.5%, despite a 27% increase in clinical activity in the same period.

This reduction in emissions is promising, so how does the NHS propose to achieve their targets? They have identified a route to net-zero by looking at the carbon emissions that they control directly and the emissions that they can influence indirectly, and have set two targets accordingly:

  • “For the emissions we control directly (the NHS Carbon Footprint), we will reach net zero by 2040, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2028 to 2032
  • For the emissions we can influence (our NHS Carbon Footprint Plus), we will reach net zero by 2045, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2036 to 2039.”

The direct scope of change includes using renewable fuels, upgrading NHS facilities, sourcing low carbon alternatives to anaesthetic gases and using a more sustainable vehicle fleet. The indirect scope is vast and includes; sustainable freight transport, minimising waste, lowering water consumption, limiting waste and power used for food & catering, sustainable construction and more. Now that these areas for improvement have been identified, the progress can be reviewed and adapted accordingly to ensure the trajectory to net-zero is as planned.

There is no doubt that net-zero healthcare has to be the future. The NHS model is by no means perfect and there will surely be challenges ahead, however, they have already proven that it is possible to make progress. The importance placed on sustainability in the public and private spheres means that others will soon follow suit, which will – hopefully – make for a greener and brighter future in medicine.

To dive into hot-topics such as making medicine more sustainable with the leading scientific minds in the industry, make sure you register to attend Lab Innovations.






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