The importance of sustainability further climbed the local, national and international agenda during the year. Since the first NHS Digital Sustainability Development Plan in 2017, we have made good progress in implementing NHS Digital’s objectives, including efficiency improvements in our estate and through smarter working.
Our headline is achieving our 43% carbon reduction target for 2020/21 one year early, realising a 44% reduction since our baseline year of 2013/14, whilst also making significant progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (see Annex 1). This has delivered annual reductions of about 15% in gas and electricity consumption in our buildings; a 20% cut in water use; and a 20% fall in business travel mileage. As part of this, a more robust sustainability baseline has been created for 2019/20 which will now be used for year-on-year monitoring of progress.
The adoption of smarter working practices across NHS Digital, and in our interactions with partners, has accelerated markedly during the initial period of the COVID-19 response. This has helped us move to more efficient working patterns and uses of technology with expected benefits for more sustainable consumption. Similarly, the forced acceleration of digital collaboration is enabling wider sustainability benefits.
One of the most critical contributions to sustainability is made by more efficient and effective use of our technology infrastructure services. We have made progress in optimising our on-premise data centres consumption by migrating to more efficient alternatives and also by adopting more public cloud-based services through our ‘Cloud First’ approach. A revised sustainability effort is being mobilised from NHS Digital working with partners and our technology suppliers, in order to mobilise a strategy and plan that further contributes to our goals. In the coming year, we will take a more strategic stance in optimising the use of both local organisations’ infrastructure and their cloud-based solutions. We will work with other NHS partners to drive the optimisation of infrastructure consumption and efficiency across the health and social care technology arena.
This however is just the start and we must re-double our efforts to move towards ‘net zero’ and prepare our digital healthcare services for a more strategic, sustainable response. Given the criticality of this agenda, and the specific focus on sustainable infrastructure as a central part of delivery, our Sustainability Programme will now be overseen by the Deputy CEO and MD of IT Operations Group in NHS Digital.