Matt Sawyer helps clinicians to understand their carbon emissions footprint from running their practice, and helps produce a practice-wide ‘green plan’ or roadmap to work towards net-zero emissions.
‘The climate crisis is a health crisis’ is an increasingly well-used phrase. It is widely recognised that providing health care can impact planetary health and a damaged natural world can have lasting health implications.
My journey to help develop a tool to aid GPs measure their contribution to the climate crisis has been shaped by working as a GP in the North East of England for over 15 years. However, I have been interested in the health of the planet for far longer. Eight years ago I stepped down from being a GP partner, transitioned to locum work, and returned to education where I completed a BSc in Environmental Science followed by an MSc in Corporate Sustainability and Environmental Management.
In October 2020, the NHS became the world’s first health system to commit to delivering a net-zero service by 2045. Interestingly, since this announcement, attention has been focused on hospitals and secondary care, and far less on primary care. This was surprising to me as primary care is responsible for approximately 23% of the total NHS emissions footprint — about 5.75 million tonnes per year, amounting to 1% of UK greenhouse gas emissions.1
In October 2020, the NHS became the world’s first health system to commit to delivering a net-zero service by 2045.
We all have a role to play in tackling this emergency. To respond to this, GP surgeries are anticipated to start measuring and reducing emissions, but until now there has been little support available to enable them to achieve this. The need for practical solutions that would help GP practices to lessen the impact on the environment was apparent. To progress towards the net-zero ambitions, I was aware that GPs needed a better understanding of their carbon footprint and what they could do to reduce it, without adding a huge burden to their workloads.
My experience, combined with my knowledge of environmental sustainability, enabled me to recognise not only how to calculate the emissions but also convert the number into something meaningful for practices to use. This led to the creation of the GP Carbon Calculator.
Developed in association with the Sustainable Healthcare Coalition and Boehringer Ingelheim, the GP Carbon Calculator is a free, easy-to-use resource for every UK GP practice to access. The resource supports them in their efforts to reduce emissions and tackle climate change to help protect the health of the planet and ultimately their patients.
… the GP Carbon Calculator is a free, easy-to-use resource for every UK GP practice to access.
The online tool helps GP practices quantify the non-clinical greenhouse gas emissions used to run the practice. This includes the hotspots and total emissions from energy use, staff and patient travel, and goods procured from the business. Tackling emissions often has multiple co-benefits — whether financially by using and wasting less energy, improved health for staff and patients from active travel, or through the reduction of wasted resources by improving our purchasing of goods.
The GP Carbon Calculator has been piloted by a dozen practices, allowing both practice managers and GPs to provide invaluable feedback. Those practices who have trialled the resource were extremely supportive, expressing their gratitude that such a tool has been developed to help measure their carbon footprints. One GP said that they have been stuck trying to work out their practice’s carbon footprint for the past 2 years and had just about given up. They said that the GP Carbon Calculator was a vital tool and they wanted to encourage all practices to use it.
By utilising the GP Carbon Calculator, practices will not only be able to identify and understand how to reduce their carbon intake in-line with the NHS’ net-zero ambitions, but they will also be able to reduce their maintenance costs through improved efficiency. Ultimately, by reducing their carbon impact, GP surgeries will be helping to reduce respiratory and cardiovascular health implications caused by air pollution to protect the health of both the current and future generation.
The GP Carbon Calculator is accessible at https://www.gpcarbon.org, to support GP practices in reducing the environmental impact of primary care while improving outcomes for patients and staff.
1. Tennison I, Roschnik S, Ashby B, et al. Health care’s response to climate change: a carbon footprint assessment of the NHS in England. Lancet Planet Health 2021; 5(2): e84–e92.
This article was developed in association with the Sustainable Healthcare Coalition and Boehringer Ingelheim.