Healthcare’s Environmental Footprint

Globally, healthcare accounts for 4.4% of the worlds’ carbon emissions, and in the UK, the NHS produces 5.4% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The NHS is also responsible for 3.5% of all road travel in England, producing significant air pollution. 

In October 2020 the Greener NHS released a report detailing plans to become the world’s first ‘net zero’ health service by 2040. Building on work being done by trusts across the country, Greener NHS is sharing ambitious plans and ideas on how to reduce the impact on public health and the environment and also save the NHS money.

There have also been recent success stories, with multiple trusts and several Royal Colleges declaring climate emergencies, and beginning to make major changes in the way they operate to reduce their footprint.

England’s Health and Social Care carbon emission breakdown for 2017

Graph showing percentage breakdown of carbon emissions per sector in NHS Health and Social Care
KEY: Green=Core; Blue=Supply Chain, Yellow=Community; Navy=Commissioned
Figures used with permission from the Sustainable Development Unit (Natural Resources Footprint 2018).

The biggest contributors to total emissions in the UK Health and Social Care were medical instruments/equipment (13.2%) and pharmaceuticals (12.1%). Fuel and electricity make up 8.6% and 7.6% respectively. Transport, including patient and visitor transport, staff commuting, fleet travel, and freight, is responsible for 18.7%. Metered dose inhalers (MDIs) contribute 3.1% (due to the propellants used). Anaesthetic gases are responsible for 1.7%.