NHS trusts told to stop picking 'low-hanging fruit' in carbon crackdown

Longer-term vision needed to ensure health service slashes emissions

Trusts are being urged to see the bigger picture and not just concentrate on the low hanging fruit

NHS trusts need to ‘stop picking the low-hanging fruit’ and take a long-term approach to reducing carbon emissions, experts have advised.

During a recent Guardian webcast, sustainability champions and a few trailblazing NHS organisations said it was easier to find ways of reducing emissions in the first few years, but that after the obvious things had been thought of, all too often the momentum slowed down.

Trish Marchant, energy and environment manager at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The challenge with implementing carbon reduction plans is that we can achieve a lot in the first couple of years through low-hanging fruit such as insulating steam pipes, changing lighting schemes and updating building management systems, but it can be difficult to keep up the momentum when you need to invest to save in the face of budget restrictions.”

Simon Rigby, divisional director of clinical support at Musgrove Park Hospital in Somerset, added “Organisations need to look holistically and bring together potential projects so the low-hanging fruit helps to fund the more difficult challenges. For example, it is not effective to make improvements to building management systems if your distribution pipework is in efficient.

The challenge with implementing carbon reduction plans is that we can achieve a lot in the first couple of years through low-hanging fruit, but it can be difficult to keep up the momentum when you need to invest to save in the face of budget restrictions

“In the past we have tried to make improvements on a year-by-year basis and although improvements have been made, they have not been on the scale now required of the NHS Carbon Reduction Strategy.”

Analysis by the Carbon Trust backs up these comments, showing that projects with the quickest payback periods are being implemented first in the NHS. The most-common interventions include metering and monitoring and training staff to be more vigilant about waste.

The introduction of the Carbon Reduction Commitment means trusts will have to buy allowances and prove a reduction in emissions year on year

Rigby’s trust is currently pioneering a unique approach to energy savings, having signed a partnership agreement with Schneider Electric through which the company will help the organisation to significantly reduce emissions over a number of years.

Rigby said: “The project is the first of its kind in the UK healthcare sector and is guaranteed to deliver substantial energy efficiency improvements. It is self-funding and includes the cost of improving and/or replacing old energy-inefficient infrastructure, and includes technologies such as combined heat and power.

“Overall we have a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 43% by the end of this year, which far exceeds the Government’s 2020 target. We can do this as we are using the money that would normally be given to utility companies and are instead investing in the estates infrastructure. We will save £17m over the next 20 years, so I believe it can be done.

NHS trusts are highly variable in their approach. Some have embraced sustainability as a solution to many things, mainly financial deficit, and others approach it in term of integrated reporting, or being seen to be a good corporate citizen in their own communities

“If we can do it with our old estate, then others should be able to do even better.”

Medway NHS Foundation Trust is also providing a benchmark for others to follow, with the designation of carbon champions. The organisation has also installed a CHP plant, energy-efficient lighting and has replaced car park lights with LEDs.

Martyn Jeffery, director of estates at the Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust, said it too was taking a much wider view of the opportunities for CO2 reduction. He explained: “The Royal Free Carbon Management and Implementation Plan (CMIP) identified a potential 25% reduction in on-site carbon emissions from a multitude of different schemes. This included an £8m refurbishment of our energy centre, the installation of heat recovery equipment on compatible air conditioning plants, and, at the other end of the scale, the replacement of lighting in the multi-storey car park. The opportunity to reduce carbon emissions is now taken into consideration when evaluating every capital investment.

“Our five-year strategy has enabled at 25%-plus reduction in carbon emissions. This really underlines the importance of a long-term outlook.”

And David Pencheon, director of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, said: “NHS trusts are highly variable in their approach. Some have embraced sustainability as a solution to many things, mainly financial deficit, and others approach it in term of integrated reporting, or being seen to be a good corporate citizen in their own communities.

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