Current levels of human-linked carbon dioxide emissions are causing devastating changes to our climate.
For the future of our planet, every one of us needs to reduce our carbon footprint rapidly, including Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS.
In 2022, we approved a new Green Plan to achieve this.
How big is the carbon footprint of BWC NHS?
In 2020/21, we were responsible for emitting 64,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and its equivalent (CO2e). That’s a lot – the same as burning 152,000 barrels of oil.
To balance this much CO2 with our planet would need a mature forest bigger than Birmingham.
Clearly this isn't possible, and we're not alone. As the largest employer in Britain, the NHS is responsible for around 4% of the nation's total carbon emissions. We must take a major part in meeting our country’s carbon targets.
The chart below shows where our carbon emissions come from at BWC;
It shows that how we heat and power our buildings, how we travel, and the carbon needed to produce and transport the equipment, drugs and consumables that we use to provide care all have a significant impact.
What are we doing about it?
We have pledged to be net-zero for our NHS carbon footprint by 2040, achieving an 80% reduction on our 1990 baseline by 2032, and to be net-zero across all our related activities by 2045, achieving an 80% reduction by 2039.
Our Green Plan establishes several groups that are now working hard on each part of our carbon pie.
In some areas, the answers are easier. We know a lot of what needs to be done to reduce emissions from heating our buildings, and how we can remove substantial amounts of carbon from our travel.
We are also planning how we need to adapt for the changes to our climate that are already inevitable.
However, for other areas, such as emissions linked to life-saving medicines, we don’t yet have the answers. Part of the Greener NHS plan is making sure the NHS works with manufacturers to find solutions to these problems.
You can read more about what we’re doing in each area through the links below;
- Building energy (24%)
- Anaesthetic Gases and Metered Dose Inhalers (4%)
- Water and Waste (<1%)
- Personal Travel (10%)
- Business Travel and Fleet (<1%)
- Medicines and Chemicals (10%)
- Medical Equipment (10%)
- Non-medical Equipment (6%)
- Construction & Food (34%)
- Commissioned Health Services outside the NHS (2%)
For our younger visitors, you can learn more about our 'Carbon Critters', and what we're doing about them here.
What can you do to help us?
There is now overwhelming scientific agreement that if we don’t act very quickly on climate change, the consequences will be catastrophic.
It is already too late to prevent some severe damage, but there is still much we can save. That will take all of us.
Here are five simple ways you can help us;
1. Travel by public transport, walking or cycling
Patient and visitor travel is responsible for 6% of our total emissions. Transport is changing rapidly in Birmingham, and all our sites can be easily reached by train, tram or bus.
Our public transport guide provides the easiest way to plan your trip, reducing your carbon footprint and avoiding the need to drive into the city centre.
We have public cycle parking facilities at both our hospital sites, and there are more details on our how to find us page.
2. Get the benefit from medicines
Medicines are amazing, allowing us to do so much. However, they are also a big part of our carbon footprint. They emit a lot of carbon when they’re made, and even more as they are transported around the world.
We will only prescribe medicines that we think you need. However, if your condition changes or you are not using your medicines, please tell us or your GP (General Practitioner) so medicines aren’t wasted.
If you’re struggling to take your medicines, for example because of side effects, talk to your doctor so we can make sure you’re getting effective treatment.
3. Help us avoid waste
Every year, thousands of appointments are unused when people don’t turn up, and this means we use more carbon providing extra clinics rather than using our buildings as efficiently as possible.
Please attend your appointment, and set a reminder close to the time so you don’t miss it.
If you don’t need it any more, please call us so we can offer the appointment to someone else.
4. Prevention is better than cure
One of the best ways to reduce emissions is to avoid needing to use something in the first place. Keeping healthy, and using high quality advice for self-treatment of minor ailments, would avoid several attendances at our hospitals every day.
You can visit nhs.uk for advice on a wide range of medical conditions, such as a child with a high temperature, croup or an upset tummy. You can also dial 111 or visit 111 online for advice and guidance when it isn’t an emergency.
Our health and wellbeing pages provide information on everything from stopping smoking to home safety. You’ll also find advice on dealing with extreme weather, which will become increasingly common with the changes that have already started in our UK climate.
5. Get involved
Sustainability and climate change is a priority for our young people and family advisory councils.
If it’s something you care about, why not become a member?
If you’ve got a specific idea you’d like to share, you can also get in touch via our communications team.
What can we all do at home?
Failing to prevent the worst harms of climate change will have a huge cost to all of us.
Whilst making some changes to reduce our carbon footprints will also have a cost, there are simple steps we can all take that really add up;
- Change how you travel; walking and cycling for short trips, and using public transport wherever possible. Not only does this reduce your carbon and save you money, it makes our streets a more welcoming place, so others can join you more easily.
- Insulate and draft proof your home; simple changes, such as draught proofing and thicker curtains, can make a real difference, and can usually be done in rental properties. Set thermostats to no higher than 19oc, and heating systems no higher than 55oc. Bigger changes to windows and insulation also pay back their costs quickly if you can afford them and own your home.
- Buy low energy appliances; replace bulbs with LED lighting, and when you need to change an appliance, look at the energy consumption ratings.
- Shop local; as well as reducing the distance you travel, supporting local suppliers can reduce carbon consumed in transporting products and creates better local communities.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle; try and avoid the need to use something in the first place, and if you must generate waste, make sure it is disposed of in the way that reduces the total carbon impact. This is particularly important for food waste, and more energy intensive materials such as metal and glass.
- Reduce your meat consumption; meat production is carbon intense, with gases (ahem) released from animals as well as the land clearance required for feed manufacture having a big impact. Not everyone will be able to change overnight, but make a start on a journey to having a more plant based diet. You’ll also save money and protect animal welfare.
- Prepare for extreme weather; with heatwaves and intense storms becoming more common, think about how you’ll keep safe and as healthy as possible during extreme weather.
- Begin adapting to our future climate; Significant climate change is now already ‘locked in.’ It’s worth thinking about how you can begin adapting to the impacts of this.
For the full list, visit the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee advice page.
Why do we care about climate change?
The climate emergency is a health emergency.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment outlines the devastating impact that climate change will have on our planet if rapid changes are not made in this decade.
As the chair of the British Medical Association recently noted,
If we do not take bold and decisive action immediately to work towards net-zero, the impact of climate change in the near future will wreak havoc on the planet taking an immeasurable toll on the health of people across the globe.
From coastal flooding to decreasing food yields, and from intense summer heatwaves to collapse of ecosystems, climate failure will result in loss of life and livelihood across every continent.
In the UK, climate change will disrupt our everyday lives. It will worsen the gap in health outcomes, weaken the supply of essential goods, increase water scarcity and create additional costs for all of us.
For us to do the best for children, young people and their families, we must care deeply about climate change.
Where can I find out more about acting on climate change?
Here are some resources our teams have found helpful whilst learning about climate change;
The national Greener NHS pages, which describe the innovation and change happing across the NHS to meet the net-zero pledge.
The UK's Climate Change Committee has helpful summaries and detailed reports on the impacts of climate change on the UK has helpful summaries and detailed reports on the likely impacts of climate change on the UK
Lancet Countdown, which tracks progress on health and climate change.
United Nations Climate Action website which brings an important global perspective, looking at the issues of climate justice on behalf of the most vulnerable.
'All we can save', edited by Ayana Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson brings together a diverse collection of women's voices on the climate crisis, and balances challenging science with hopeful possibilities.
'The Uninhabitable Earth: A story of the future' by David Wallace-Wells, which speaks to the consequences of failing to take prompt action on climate change.
'The End of Nature' by Bill McKibben is a little old now, but has been a critical work in relating how humans and nature are powerfully connected, built on detailed science.
'Being the change: live well and spark a climate revolution' by Peter Kalmus is a practical way to start acting from where you are, whilst not ignoring the bigger changes that need to happen.
Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth', now over fifteen years old, remains a challenging film to connect with some of the core themes of climate change.