The health service is to set itself up as a trailblazer for public sector sustainability.

Ambitious goals ranging from tough carbon-cutting targets to making staff walk and cycle are outlined in the NHS’s first carbon reduction strategy, launched on Tuesday by chief executive David Nicholson.

Under the plan, Saving Carbon, Improving Health, the service will reduce its carbon emissions by 10 per cent by 2015, five years before the first national carbon reduction target set out in last year’s climate change act comes into force.

This will be a challenge, as the health service carbon footprint has increased by more than 40 per cent since 1990 and the NHS accounts for a quarter of all public sector carbon emissions in England.

“Massive challenge”
The report says without action the figure could rise to 55 per cent by 2020, meaning “stabilisation alone will be a massive challenge”.

In a statement, Mr Nicholson and care services minister Phil Hope said the health service aimed to “at least meet” legally binding government targets to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and to “demonstrate early success on the way”.

They said: “[We] applaud the ambition of the NHS to lead the way as a low carbon and sustainable organisation.”

The strategy, which has won the backing of Monitor executive chair Bill Moyes, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges chair Dame Carol Black and British Medical Association chair Hamish Meldrum, requires every NHS organisation to set up a sustainable development management plan at board level.

It demands more efficient procurement, sustainably produced food and more home working.

It also proposes a flat expenses rate for business mileage.

Simple measures
Staff will be expected to adopt measures as simple as turning down hospital radiators instead of opening windows to cool rooms. Further targets on waste reduction and recycling are likely to follow.

The NHS will also be expected to influence the behaviour of partner organisations.

Sustainable development unit director David Pencheon said it was important the health service “took action and was seen to take action” on climate change as a “public sector exemplar”.

He said: “The things the NHS can do publicly and visibly are worth their weight in gold.”

NHS Confederation policy director Nigel Edwards said staff must be empowered to achieve the report’s goals.

“Our members understand their responsibility to address climate change. A key part of the success of the NHS carbon reduction strategy will depend on the skills and knowledge of staff to deliver it,” he said.