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Part of Sustainability Annual Report 2019-2020

Operational and carbon highlights

Current Chapter

Current chapter – Operational and carbon highlights

Solid performance has been achieved across most KPIs, with major reductions in utilities and associated carbon footprint. Business travel reductions have been more stubborn but are now on a downward trend.

In 2019/20, we have achieved an absolute 44% carbon reduction

 from our baseline year of 2013/14

Performance vs KPI

Our 2017 Sustainable Development Management Plan targets broadly mirror the central Greening Government Targets. Detailed performance information and technical notes are in Annexes 3 and 4 in line with Her Majesty's Government Public Sector Annual Sustainability Reporting Requirements:

Element Key 2019-20 actions Target 19/20 vs 13/14 Performance 19/20 vs 13/14 Key 2020-21 opportunities Target 20/21 vs 13/14
Carbon footprint (CO2e) Greening of grid electricity, estate rationalisation and renewable energy procurement 20% 44% reduction Continued estate rationalisation 42% reduction (exceeded)
Electricity use (building, KWh) LED light improvements, Solar PV installation, renewable energy procurement 20% 18% reduction Renewable energy procurement and grid average carbon intensity 30% (on track)
Gas use (kWh) Building Management System enhancements 20% 28% reduction Estate rationalisation 30% reduction (on track)
Water use (m3) Water leak fixes 20% 51% increase ** or 5% increase per FTE * Estate rationalisation and Leeds Hub 40% reduction (challenging)
Waste diverted from landfill (%) Recycling improvements, energy from waste over landfill N/A Increase from 48% to 98% Office waste improvements and utilisation reductions 90% reduction (on track)
Lease car CO2 rating (g/km) Travel Reduction Policy 110g/km CO2 113g/km CO2 Recommend to all lease car drivers to switch to Euro VI vehicles <90g/km CO2 (on track)
Domestic flights (count) Domestic flights ban and roll out of virtual collaboration tools 20% 11% reduction or 39% reduction by FTE* Flight ban and uptake of virtual meetings

30% reduction

(COVID working practices help)
Trains (km) Travel Reduction Policy Reduction against baseline 40% increase or 3% reduction by FTE* Embedding virtual working as the new normal

Reduction against baseline

(COVID working practices help)
Paper procurement (reams) Engagement with high print teams N/A 50% reduction Printer reductions following estate rationalisation

50% reduction


* Where absolute target has been missed per FTE normalisation is used to indicate further context – FTE figures available in Annex 4

** Strong progress in water efficiency is still not delivering net reductions most likely due to enhanced monitoring accuracy since 13/14

Our carbon footprint reductions

In 2019/20, we have achieved an absolute 44% carbon reduction from our baseline year of 2013/14. This is a significant achievement, overshooting our 20/21 target of a 43% carbon reduction.


Business area 2013/14 Carbon emissions in tonnes of CO2
Estates (electricity, gas, water and waste) 2867 (28%)
Travel (cars, trains, plans and hotels) 1060 (10%)
Data centres (outsourced, colocation and cloud) 5219 (52%)
Procurement (ICT hardware and paper) 981 (10%)


Business area 2019/20 Carbon emissions in tonnes of CO2
Estates (electricity, gas, water and waste) 1504 (27%)
Travel (cars, trains, plans and hotels) 805 (15%)
Data centres (outsourced, colocation and cloud) 2129 (38%)
Procurement (ICT hardware and paper) 1131 (20%)

The move to renewables

NHS Digital has pro-actively procured renewable energy for the first time in 2019/20. Over 80% of our estate and all of our colocation data centres are now powered by renewable energy. Under greenhouse gas reporting requirements, we must report on grid average figures, however carbon analysis reveals that in principle this saves 2492 tonnes CO2e (Carbon Dioxide Equivalent) compared to our grid average figure of 2784 tonnes CO2e.

Smart working and business travel

The requirement for location independent working has been enabled by a large amount of ICT hardware and software provision, partnered with training courses and a self-guidance library to build confidence in their use.

Smart working is a key enabler for estate rationalisation into the Leeds Hub. The move is forecast to rationalise our office footprint significantly and deliver 30% energy savings. The Hub will provide an excellent working environment in BREEAM Excellent rated building (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method).


A research project was undertaken to explore the impacts of homeworking on our carbon footprint during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home creates a clear carbon benefit when factoring in energy use, commuting and virtual meetings. 

Only 8% of our current fleet are Ultra Low Emission Vehicles, which we will need to improve to hit the 25% 2022 government target.


In 2019/20, we undertook a detailed waste audit, and as a result took a number of steps to improve some of our waste and recycling facilities. We incorporated new recycling streams as a part of our staff engagement programme and worked with external partners ‘Leeds by Example’ to improve waste recycling across Leeds.

One initiative was to procure new coffee cup recycling bins. Since beginning the collection, we have ensured that 652kg of recyclable coffee cup waste has gone for proper processing and treatment. These recycled cups create a high-quality material which can then be transformed into a wide range of products, from shopping bags and packaging, to plant pots.

Coffee cups are notoriously difficult to recycle and there are only two recycling mills across the whole of the UK that can recycle them, otherwise they often end up going to landfill or contaminating recycling processes elsewhere.

Further to this our commercial and facilities teams are collaborating to remove single use plastics from our sites in line with government guidance.

Sustainable construction

Artists impression of living acoustic planters in Hexagon House, Exeter

Sustainability and the environment has been an integral part of all our capital works for a few years now. Our project initiation and capital spend policies within estates have been updated to include engagement with the sustainability manager throughout and all capital tenders include core qualification areas around sustainability and environmental impact. Many items are ‘standard’ in all our capital works now, such as LED lighting, low flow taps, high efficiency hand dryers, but where possible we have gone further to include items like solar PV, EV charging points, living acoustic planters and alike.

Solar photovoltaic installation at Hexagon House, Exeter

Our move to the new hub in 2021 brings BREEAM Excellent ratings for our Leeds estate as standard. Solar PV, high efficiency glazing, BMS and HVAC in place and low flow water systems throughout.

Sustainable procurement 

There is commitment and support to grow the maturity of sustainable procurement across the commercial function with a series of activities both underway and planned. This year we have delivered:

  1. Sustainability is now included as a check within the Finance and Commercial Assurance Panel (FCAP) process. Each commercial request required to go to FCAP must now set out the sustainability approach, which will be approved and reviewed. 
  2. The Modern Slavery Statement has been updated following publication of Government guidance. This includes several new commitments relating to slavery across our procurement and supply chain activities. The commercial policy, which sets out how all commercial activity is to be conducted, has been updated and sustainability now runs through the policy as a key commitment.
  3. The commercial team has undertaken the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply training on Ethical Procurement.

Activity relating to sustainability will gain pace further during 20/21 and beyond. Sustainability will specifically be included in the revised Commercial Strategy which is currently under development and across our categories of spend. We plan to include specific measurements of sustainability into tenders where appropriate and include specific percentages in evaluations, as well as developing our commercial team in sustainability.

Culture change programme 

2019/20 was the first full year of the sustainability engagement programme. We have tripled membership of our sustainability champions network and held monthly sustainability training for all staff since October 2019, including the provision of workshops and away day events for teams/directorates. We have run a range of successful engagement campaigns and initiaives including:

  • 10 virtual activities including a ‘Big Green Quiz’
  • 18 blogs written by Green Digits on a variety of sustainability topics 
  • 31 in-person events engaging with staff on a variety of sustainability-related topics
  • 37 online internal campaigns including articles from our Chief Financial Officer

Sustainability engagement programme highlights


Membership increase of our Green Digits Network in 2019/20 compared with previous year

701 colleagues

Have attended an event held by the Sustainability team in 2019/20


Visits recorded on the sustainability intranet site in 2019/20

Last edited: 21 October 2020 9:55 am