How can suppliers help in the NHS Net Zero mission?

Written by Faye Williamson

As the first healthcare system in the world to adopt net zero into its legislation, the NHS is on a mission to decarbonise operations. The British Medical Association has found that the NHS contributes to around 4-5% of the total UK carbon emissions and for its presence in England alone, it’s responsible for 40% of the public sector’s emissions.

In an attempt to address its contribution to emissions and aid the wider net zero goal, NHS England released its report Delivering a Net Zero health service in 2020. This sets out the health service’s commitment to achieving net zero emissions. For emissions controlled directly, the target is to reach net zero by 2040, with an aim to meet an 80% reduction between 2036 and 2039. For those emissions the NHS can influence like ICT and medical devices, a goal of 2045 has been set with the same timeframe for an 80% reduction.

Getting everyone on the same page

Suppliers, who provide the likes of medical equipment and technology fall within the category of indirectly controlled emissions, meaning that the NHS cannot influence emissions from these head-on. Rather, it relies on the suppliers to tackle any emissions that derive from such equipment. But it’s important that suppliers do take steps to reduce its carbon footprint. In fact, it has been estimated that around 60% of the NHS’s carbon footprint comes from its supply chain.

The NHS Net Zero Supplier Roadmap sets out the net zero targets for its suppliers as well as an adjusted public procurement strategy. From April this year, the NHS asks its bidders for contracts over £5 million to express its commitment to achieving net zero by 2050. If suppliers don’t reflect on their own carbon emissions and promise to work towards net zero, they risk missing out on NHS contracts.

Of course, collaboration is key, and the NHS needs like-minded suppliers to help continue delivering healthcare services. However, everyone must align with the ambition to reach net zero within the NHS’s established timeframes.

What can suppliers do?

For some suppliers, there will be unique barriers, such as for Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Voluntary, Community & Social Enterprises (VCSEs). In these instances, extra support will be given by the NHS at each stage of the net zero journey to help suppliers with its efforts and align with the wider strategy. By working closely together and providing guidance, the NHS and its suppliers can create the best outcomes.

However, regardless of size, suppliers must be doing all they can to prioritise carbon reduction and illustrate this in an official plan. The NHS is now asking its current and prospective suppliers to have a carbon reduction plan (CRP) publicly available online and share this information within the procurement process. A CRP should clearly state the supplier’s current carbon footprint and a plan of action to reach net zero emissions. The CRP must also be updated each year.

For suppliers moving forward, be proactive in creating a company-wide net zero mission that everyone is aligned with. Thinking not only of expressing the commitment but putting in the measures to reduce the carbon footprint. The strategy covers all grounds, so be prepared to think of the likes of business travel and employee commuting, waste generation, and transportation and distribution. Each of these, and more, are essential in the wider drive to create net zero healthcare for the future.

The wider picture

The net zero effort is, undeniably, a large-scale initiative for the NHS. However, by zooming out to look at the full picture of each component that makes the health system, key areas to work on have been targeted. This means that no stone goes unturned, and the NHS can work alongside its partners and the wider public sector to reach net zero.

By setting clear targets for each area of its organisation, including realistic yet thorough expectations of its suppliers and partners, the NHS is showing the collaborative effort that must happen to reach the global goal of net zero by 2050.

The NHS is a major organisation within the UK public sector and sits within the limelight as the first of its type of organisation to do this. Its approach to the net zero effort will undoubtably become a global example and will need a helping hand from its partners.

If you need help shaping your net zero content to raise awareness of your commitment to the NHS and wider public sector, then please get in touch here.

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