Opportunity Knocks

In an era where the need for austerity and cuts are frequently discussed, opportunities can often be overlooked. The case for investing in a comprehensive carbon management programme is compelling, and the potential for savings are even greater for high energy users such as the health sector. Cutting carbon and energy bills, especially when fuel and electricity prices are rising steeply, can liberate budgets which can be allocated for patient care.

The scale of the opportunity is staggering. The public sector is responsible for up to 23 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, which carry an associated energy cost of around £5 billion. Capital investment of just £1.5 billion, spent on the most cost effective solutions, could result in £500 million of annual savings, providing payback in as little as three years.

Although the public sector are taking the lead nationally when it comes to making an impact on emissions, there is a lag between recognising the opportunity and taking action. Recent Carbon Trust research shows that over 80 per cent of the public sector agrees that carbon reduction projects will deliver financial benefits, but that only 58 per cent were planning on making tangible investments in carbon reduction in 2012. However this is still a significantly higher percentage than those intending to take action than in business (46 per cent) and the voluntary sector (33 per cent).

Business case for action
With just 37 per cent of public sector organisations feeling like current government policy supports their carbon reduction activities, the internal financial and reputational business case for action is crucial. By taking the initiative and investing in cutting energy consumption, public bodies can use cost savings to deliver more efficient services and ultimately deliver greater value for the public. Healthcare Trusts should also be considering the health benefits of low carbon lifestyles such as walking and cycling. This is why the Carbon Trust are delighted to see leading health sector organisations taking their carbon future into their own hands.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust were one of the first public bodies to start working with the Carbon Trust back in 2006 on our carbon management programme. Over their first three years they achieved 20 per cent reductions in annual emissions, which was double the NHS target for the same period. The Carbon Trust helped them to develop a strategy, business case and projects to achieve this. The most significant investment was in new combined heat and power engines at each site, which delivered savings of around £1.5 million and 11,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. Other key activities included the addition of energy efficiency measures during the refurbishment of the Guy’s Tower, updates to the hospital’s catering and laundry facilities, improvements to the heating and lighting controls, and the extension of the hospital’s building management system to previously unconnected areas. Alexandra Hammond, sustainability manager, Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Trust, said: “The work really helped us to cut across divisions and draw lots of smaller initiatives together under one strategic umbrella into a plan we could present to the Board. The advice we’ve received has been a useful combination of simple steps we can implement now as well as long term measures which together will help us to achieve tangible cost and carbon savings. There are a lot of things staff can do, from shutting down printers to turning off lights. We have around 7,000 PCs in use across the Trust, and in many cases there is no ‘ownership’ of them. People tend to hot desk, and no-one wants to be responsible for having turned the computer off when someone needs it urgently. Instead, we’re looking at a centralised shutdown which ‘hibernates’ the computers when not in use.

She continued:“We are also looking at a thin client system which removes the need for individual hard drives and uses less power.”

Ten years of experience
They are just one of a number of NHS organisations that have signed up to this year’s Carbon Trust carbon management programmes which launched in June 2012, with participants including NHS Trusts from North Cumbria to South Essex, and three Ambulance Services. The programmes have been developed and refined through the Carbon Trust’s ten years of experience working with the public sector, helping to save over 17 million tonnes of CO2 and £600 million to date.

Over ten months participants will receive expert advice, tools and support for measuring their current emissions, forecasting their future emissions, and setting realistic targets for reducing these. This involves identifying projects, and making the financial business case for savings, as well as engaging staff, management, and stakeholders with their opportunity to have an influence on emissions. The average savings identified by NHS trusts on the 2011 carbon management programme was £1 million a year.

As for the sorts of action that can be taken, plenty can done without spending any money at all, just through looking at optimising existing facilities and changing organisational culture. Relatively cheap measures, such as installing LED lighting can provide swift returns on investment, typically between one and three years, with the additional benefit of lower maintenance costs over the extended lifetime of the bulbs. More ambitious measures include recladding for inefficient buildings from the 1960s and 70s or installing renewable heat and electricity technologies, such as biomass boilers or wind turbines.

By investing in carbon management organisations will not only see the financial and carbon benefits for their own organisation, but are able to show leadership in their sector and local communities. Climate change has health consequences around the world, and by taking action on carbon the NHS has the opportunity promote a healthy climate, with savings that deliver a healthy balance sheet.

This article was wrote by Tim Pryce, head of public sector at the Carbon Trust

Further information
New Carbon Trust public sector programmes will be launching in September 2012 and spring 2013. For further information please call
 0207 170 7000 or email 

The Public Sector Carbon Network is an online community funded by the Carbon Trust designed to promote carbon reduction within the public sector by facilitating the exchange of best practice and case studies. 
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