A recent league table of over 2,000 UK businesses ranked four NHS trusts as the highest performing organisations. NHS Sustainable Development Unit director David Pencheon explains why other trusts must aim to emulate this success.

The NHS is at the top of the league table when it comes to taking energy efficiency seriously.

Four NHS organisations have beaten more than 2,000 other UK businesses and received the best mark possible in the government-run Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC), part of the Climate Change Act (2008).

The four top players, Barnsley Hospital Foundation Trust; Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust; North West London Hospitals Trust; and The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation Trust (King’s Lynn), all scored 100 per cent in the CRC league table.

It is now a legal requirement to take part in the CRC if a business uses more than 6,000 MegaWatt hours (MWh) of electricity. This is the amount of electricity large organisations use and is roughly equivalent to a yearly electricity bill of £500,000.    

The CRC’s first performance league table was based purely on “early action metrics”, that is to say those organisations which began working to a Carbon Trust Standard (or equivalent) and emissions monitored through Automatic Meter Reading (AMR).

Next year these annual league tables will focus more on how well an organisation is reducing its carbon emissions and reducing its energy spend

Originally many organisations were worried about the CRC since it was another hoop that the NHS had to jump through but the NHS Sustainable Development Unit believes the scheme encourages organisations to be more energy efficient, saving money that can be re-invested to improve direct patient care. 

The CRC requires organisations to scrutinise their energy usage and costs more closely enabling them to spot and reduce energy wastage and ultimately save money.

It is evident that many NHS organisations are already taking this seriously. Before Christmas we announced (HSJ, 24 Nov 2011) that NHS building energy use has already started to come down, saving the NHS £2.9m pounds in the last year. 

The good news does not end there. The NHS showed strong commitment to the CRC and outperformed many other parts of the public and private sector in getting ready for the scheme. Preparing 159 eligible NHS organisations for the CRC and doing so within tight deadlines and without penalty has taken a huge collaborative effort. It has been achieved by a systematic approach across the NHS led by NHS managers and Estates  and public health professionals supported by regional sustainability leads and the NHS SDU.

In fact NHS registration levels impressed the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) so much that they have written a case study on how it was achieved saying:

However, more still needs to be done. Despite the fact that the NHS performed well this year, the health system will need to work hard to maintain this lead, especially as the scheme may well extend to other NHS organisations in future years. Those NHS organisations who understand the multiple benefits of performing well in the CRC, have avoided adverse press such as wasting tax payers money on inefficient heating and lighting.

Many NHS organisations have been saving money and energy for years. They know it is good business sense. Not only are efficiency and savings projects aligned with QIPP, minimising wastage also allows more resources to be directed to front line patient care and in the long term will help create a more sustainable health system. 

Maintaining momentum in terms of efficiency and productivity is helping the NHS to become a truly sustainable organisation. There is little doubt that aligning financial and environmental benefits are core to well run NHS organisations. Such considerations are becoming increasingly prominent as both targets and savings become more ambitious, and as fines and penalties grow while resources become increasingly scarce. 

The NHS has shown it can rise to the challenge of delivering a future-proof service which is sustainable in financial, social and environmental terms. It is now up to all of us to make sure this continues to happen.

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Sustainable Development Unit