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A year of progress

2018-19 has been the first full year of our sustainability programme following the publication of our first Sustainability Development Management Plan (SDMP) in late  2017.  It has been a year of awareness raising, momentum building and strategic thinking. We have set up a sustainability steering group that is chaired by the Chief Finance Officer. This reports annually to the Executive Management Team.

Quantitative progress is encouraging in most cases where data is available. However, if we are as an organisation to play our full part in meeting the Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) requirements, a step change is required in both ambition and performance.

The 2018 IPCC special report states that we have 12 years to make huge changes to global carbon emissions, with carbon neutrality now required in the near to medium term. 2018-19 has been a very significant year for climate science and, specifically, public awareness of the scale of the issues we face globally. As a public sector organisation in a developed country, we should lead the way in showing what is possible with concerted effort.

Hitting the 43% carbon reduction 2020 target in the Greening Government commitments is an important short-term target and we will be contributing to change in 2019-20 by:

  • switching to renewable energy for buildings and data centres
  • increasing digital collaboration and reducing travel
  • consolidating our office estate and moving to the Leeds Hub in 2020-21
  • creating a mechanism for monitoring and improving the sustainability impact of products and services
  • considering business continuity issues arising from global warming

Our carbon footprint

NHS Digital was created in 2013 and data from our predecessor organisations was incomplete.

For that reason, we have adopted 2013-14 as the baseline year, rather than 2009-10.

Encouraging progress has been made in implementing our SDMP, including improvements to our carbon footprint, estate management, paper use, green ICT and staff engagement. Further work is needed to accelerate progress in the procurement, business travel, water use and sustainable technology workstreams.


The headline achievement is a 19% reduction in our carbon footprint since 2013-14. This is strong progress, especially since the number of people working at NHS Digital has increased significantly over this period. It translates to an impressive 44% carbon saving per employee.

The reduction in building electricity usage has been partly offset by movement of data storage facilities to specialised data centres. The lowering in grid carbon and improved estate utilisation have contributed to the improvement. 

Our 2020 carbon reduction target was increased in July 2018 from 32% to 43% and this will be the primary focus of our SDMP update and future planning.

The table below provides a full summary of performance against our sustainability KPIs. Key achievements in 2018-19 include:

  • estate rationalisation and utilisation improvements
  • building energy improvements through better use of building management systems and lighting projects
  • refurbishing washrooms and implementing water saving measures
  • waste system improvements (bins, signage, battery and reusable coffee cup collection)
  • creation and strengthening of green ICT, sustainable procurement and digital collaboration working groups
  • a staff engagement programme, including the NHS Sustainability Day and the relaunch of the Green Digits network

Good progress has been made on the sustainable technology element of the SDMP. Our engagement with the government-wide Sustainable Technology Programme (led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has been strengthened.

We have created a healthcare technology sector ‘community of interest’ across the NHS. We are also in discussions with the NHS Digital Academy hosted by the Imperial College, London to create a sustainable technology module on their courses and have recently appointed two MSc students to work with our programme teams on sustainable technology projects.

Sustainability KPIs - performance vs target

Element Key 2018-19 actions Target 2018-19 RAG rating Actual 2018-19 Key 2019-20 opportunities Target 2020-21
Carbon footprint (CO2) Greening of grid electricity, estate utilisation 10% reduction G 19% reduction or 44% reduction by FTE Renewable energy, consolidation of estate, significant reduction in travel 43% reduction (challenging)
Electricity use (building) [kWh] Building Management Systems (BMS) enhancements, LED lights, server room optimisation 10% reduction A 7% reduction or 36% reduction by FTE Project to improve efficiency of Exeter estate being explored. Limited scope for Leeds until the Leeds Hub is occupied. 30% reduction (challenging)
Gas use [kWh] BMS enhancements 10% reduction G 14% reduction or 41% redu ction by FTE Project to improve efficiency of Exeter estate being explored. Limited scope for Leeds until the Leeds Hub is occupied. 30% reduction (challenging)
Water use [m3] Washroom refurbishments 10% reduction R 80% increase or 24% increase by FTE To identify reasons for increased use and address. Limited scope for improvement in short term 40% reduction (very challenging)
Waste diverted from landfill [tonnes] Recycling improvements N/A G 86% reduction Continued improvement to recycling infrastructure 90% reduction (on track)
Lease car CO2 rating [g/km] New lease car contract <110g/km G 99g/km Specify carbon efficient vehicles <90g/km (on track)
Domestic flights (km) Creation of business travel management 10% reduction1 R 75% increase (+21% / FTE)1 Major opportunity for step change in organisational travel patterns 30% reduction (challenging)
Trains (km) Information packs and team level budgets 10% reduction1 R 62% increase (+12% / FTE)1 Relocation strategy to minimize travel. Increased use of technology. 30% reduction (very challenging)
Paper procurement [reams] Engagement with high print users N/A G 59% reduction (-72% / FTE)1 Move to paperless meetings and training. 50% reduction (achieved)

1 Allowing for all modes of transport, overall increase in mileage per full time equivalent (FTE) since 2013/14 is 4%. Between 2017-18 and 2018-19 a reduction of 13% was achieved.

Further information on the content of our SDMP and our action plans is available on our website.

Last edited: 17 October 2019 3:43 pm