A pathway to net zero for NHS suppliers: take action together

We attended a recent webinar hosted by the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network where the panel explored the net zero goals set out by government and the NHS and what this means for the healthcare supply chain.

Examples of innovation driving greener healthcare operations were shared with healthcare organisations working with the NHS – and how they need to adapt to meet the sustainability requirements of the NHS.

In this blog, we thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the key discussion points and share a few of the practical ways that organisations can achieve greener credentials and become more sustainable.

The NHS ambition

The NHS is aiming to be the world’s first net zero national health service. To achieve this, there are two main targets:

  • For the emissions the NHS control directly (‘the NHS Carbon Footprint’), the aim is to reach net zero by 2040, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2028 to 2032; and
  • For the emissions the NHS can influence (‘the NHS Carbon Footprint Plus’), the aim is to reach net zero by 2045, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2036 to 2039.

Some of the national priorities to achieve the NHS ambition include:


Currently, medicines account for 25% of emissions within the NHS, with a small number of medicines accounting for a larger proportion of emissions (anaesthetic gases and inhalers). The aim is to reduce the environmental impact of these medicines.

Travel and Transport

Approximately 9.5 billion miles (3.5%) of all road travel in England relates to patients, visitors, staff and suppliers to the NHS. This is a contribution of around 14% of the system’s total emissions. The NHS is aiming to reduce travel and transport emissions by reviewing and replacing vehicle fleets and developing smart travel arrangements for staff.

Estates and facilities

The NHS estate and its supporting facilities’ services (including primary care, trust estates and private finance initiatives) comprise 15% of the total carbon emissions profile. Going forward, the aim is to purchase renewable sources of energy and phase out fossil fuel use as the primary heat source. Although a recent Health Service Journal article reports that "several of the largest providers have... stopped buying 100 per cent certified renewable energy as costs skyrocketed".

Supply chain and procurement

The NHS procures products from approximately 80,000 suppliers. While the NHS cannot control these emissions directly, it can use its considerable purchasing power to influence change. To do this, the NHS will ensure a 10% net zero social value weighting is applied to all procurement. In addition to that, NHS suppliers also have a carbon reduction plan in place to address indirect emissions.

Tips on reducing emissions and saving energy

When thinking about net zero in your business, it is important to think about it in terms of your:

  • productions, innovation or service; and
  • business operations.

Production, innovation or service

  • Ensure you source materials from and manufacture products within the UK, rather than importing goods internationally
  • Remove (or reduce as much as possible) single use plastics
  • Aim for zero waste to landfill
  • If technology is used, ensure the technology is hosted using renewable energy
  • Explore how the product can be reused or recycled and what its life cycle is

The business operations 

  • Reduce your energy usage through using renewable energy in your offices
  • Where vehicles are used, ensure you optimise delivery and use low/zero carbon vehicles
  • Set a net zero commitment for your business with 3-5 year targets
  • Improve supply chain transparency and set your own net zero weighting for tenders, use your purchase power to make greener choices
  • Become a digital first business and remove the use of paper
  • Allocate net zero responsibilities and ensure accountability

Supporting you

If you’d like to discuss any of the issues raised here or would like support with adapting your organisation to meet the requirements of the NHS, do get in touch, we can help you explore how you can lead the way to achieving new zero.

Our content explained

Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.


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