As global temperatures continue to soar, the climate crisis will continue to be humanity’s biggest threat.
And, if the UK wants to maintain its status as a sustainability world leader, it is paramount the state addresses the biggest enablers of our total carbon footprint.
Due to the UK public sector holding the country’s largest property portfolio, the built environment is responsible for emitting 42% of our total carbon footprint.
The Government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, first announced in October 2020, aims to cut emissions in public buildings by 75% by 2037.
Climate change isn’t simply driving the rate and risk of severe environmental disasters. It’s also threatening human health and access to care
As part of phase three, ministers have recently allocated over £400m to help decarbonise 144 public sector bodies across England, including schools, leisure centres, and, perhaps most crucially, hospitals.
The NHS has already pledged to reduce its carbon footprint by 80% by 2032, with a view to becoming the world’s-first carbon net-zero national health system.
A significant contributor
However, healthcare in England is still responsible for around 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
Put into perspective, if the average car produces around one tonne of CO2 for every 2,500 miles, then the health service’s annual footprint is equal to around 20 million cars driving from John o’ Groats, at the very tip of Scotland, all the way to Sicily, at the very bottom of Italy.
Of this total footprint, healthcare buildings themselves contribute 15% of the NHS’s emissions.
And this not only impacts its emissions but its resources, too.
Altogether, the organisation spends an ever-increasing half a billion pounds on energy each year – money that could instead go towards training doctors, hiring nurses, and meeting critical patient care needs.
A rethink is therefore needed to create more-sustainable hospital buildings that will both drive down energy costs and help the NHS comply with net-zero targets, without compromising standards of care.
The NHS is incredible at saving lives, but can it help us save the planet, too?
Let’s take a look.
First, managers need to be able to identify which sites need modernising, and what areas can be improved to provide immediate benefit.
Enhancements to healthcare clinics aren’t as simple as standard buildings: NHS hospital trusts have very-complex and specific utility requirements, such as the critical need for reliable power and similarly-reliable heat and ventilation for the comfort and care of patients, which have dramatic effect on patient stay times and experience.
A rethink is needed to create more-sustainable hospital buildings that will both drive down energy costs and help the NHS comply with net-zero targets, without compromising standards of care
So, facilities management teams must have access to analytics and software that monitors and regulates patient care alongside energy usage.
Building software platforms offer a suite of analytical services.
They provide real-time insights into a building’s operations by consistently tracking the performance of systems and appliances.
So, plugging this software into all aspects of a hospital is a crucial step in its decarbonisation roadmap.
It helps leaders to automate and centralise energy and sustainability data collection; establish and track carbon, water, and waste footprints; streamline reporting; and access and apply data insights with confidence.
This way, leaders can measure current performance, plan annual targets, and define future success.
Plus, insights from the analytics will then help them to mobilise their next steps and well as realise resource benefits from condition-based approaches.
The second phase of a hospital’s decarbonisation roadmap focuses on the deployment of physical solutions.
Historically, healthcare facilities have used carbon-intensive, fossil-fuel-based energy to power heating, transportation, and building requirements.
So, hospitals need to replace systems, like gas-powered heating and petrol transport, with newer and cleaner alternatives, like electric heat pumps and vehicles.
Building-wide electrification then allows hospitals to solely use energy from renewable sources, which is not only more sustainable, but also increasingly cost-effective.
Trusts can purchase this energy from external providers, or even produce it themselves.
Building-wide electrification allows hospitals to solely use energy from renewable sources, which is not only more sustainable, but also increasingly cost-effective
Generating renewable power, such as via solar panels, and then integrating it with microgrid technology further supercharges a hospital’s energy resilience, sustainability, and efficiency.
Leaders can even also new revenue streams by storing and selling any excess electricity back to the grid during peak demand – maximising resources that can be rerouted to patient care.
Effective management systems
Finally, the installation of a modern building management system (BMS) is key to maintaining a safe, efficient environment for both patients and staff.
Many hospitals already employ a BMS, but newer, more-advanced systems unify power consumption, low-energy lighting, microgrids, electric vehicle charging, IoT, and more, all to be controlled by a single system giving the user the right information in one place.
A centralised BMS helps managers to quickly and easily publish accurate, watertight data on the hospital’s performance, ensuring compliance with the latest low-carbon requirements
The system will also monitor the building and flag any inefficiencies or faults. Then, managers can make improvements themselves, or even automate the software to address them, transforming visibility and control over a hospital’s footprint.
Equally important is the ability to report on the building’s progress.
Patients, employees, and particularly the Government, are becoming increasingly strict and conscious of sustainability.
And a centralised BMS helps managers to quickly and easily publish accurate, watertight data on the hospital’s performance, ensuring compliance with the latest low-carbon requirements.
Feeling the effects of climate change
Climate change isn’t simply driving the rate and risk of severe environmental disasters. It’s also threatening human health and access to care.
Currently, hospitals worldwide are stuck in somewhat of a catch-22 – the emissions they produce through caring for people today are then likely to harm humans further down the line.
For effective change to truly happen, we need a shift in mindset where the wellbeing of patients and the planet become the most-urgent priority
But there is cause for hope because there are numerous opportunities to facilitate meaningful change across the healthcare sector, transforming patient experiences for the better.
The introduction of new technologies will enable decision makers to make significant changes to the way their estates operate, reducing downtime and improving operational efficiencies.
Just one NHS trust found a 30% energy use reduction by the introduction of HVAC optimisation alone.
However, for effective change to truly happen, we need a shift in mindset where the wellbeing of patients and the planet become the most-urgent priority.
With innovative new technologies at its disposal, the NHS can accelerate towards net-zero goals at speed.
All that we have achieved so far is just a glimpse at the bigger picture.