Over the last year, the Sustainability Programme has renewed its vigour to influence and drive transformation from the core of the organisation. We have re-focused our planning and developed a 5-year holistic strategy, to be published later this year, of our own operational delivery at NHS Digital and our contribution to the national agenda for healthcare and sustainability.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digital collaboration agenda and enabled rapid and far-reaching sustainability benefits. The pandemic has been a real driver in adopting resilience into our sustainability programme. We are already seeing the impacts of climate breakdown through our first significant sustainability disruption - by way of rises in infectious diseases - and proven our ability to deliver and grow digital service and products, at pace, to the health service.
The pandemic refocused our organisation’s risk assessment, and sustainability is acknowledged as a top priority. We have embarked on a journey to understand the climate and ecological risks posed to our organisation by beginning our journey in conducting an initial climate change risk assessment. The COVID-19 impact on sustainability has allowed us to advance our risk-based approach, by taking interventions to ask not only how we can make a process more sustainable, but by asking how a process or intervention can bring sustainability and resilience for the healthcare sector we serve. The sustainability team have been developing a 5-year holistic strategy, exploring processes and frameworks and possible new ways of working going forward. As part of this strategy, the team has also been considering ways to bring resiliency to the health service through our digital products and services, and by capitalising on the sustainability benefits of the digital services we provide for the health service.
We have worked to support various programmes to deploy new systems and processes with sustainability firmly embedded as a key design consideration, have continued our efforts to engage with colleagues on the subject of sustainability and its importance for our organisation through bespoke sustainability communications, and have made significant reductions in our estate footprint by way of naturally vacating premises but also by consolidating our estate footprint to more efficient purpose-built offices as part of the government hub agenda.
Our operational carbon data reveals reductions across the estate; however, we recognise that the carbon reduction does not account for the true picture of COVID working arrangements and have adopted a trial methodology to explore the shift of carbon footprint from offices to employees’ homes. Unsurprisingly, office footprint has been very low this past year, so we have taken the opportunity to revisit ways of working from a sustainability perspective which has contributed to the organisations’ future ways of working models. We have consolidated much of our Leeds-based estate footprint into one single “government hub”, moving from four office buildings into one larger building with much higher energy efficiency ratings and rated as ‘excellent’ under the BREEAM ratings. The savings of this move will be realised from 2021/22 onwards.
As illustrated in last years’ annual report, the acceleration of digital collaboration because of the pandemic has enabled rapid and far-reaching sustainability benefits. We have begun to assess the sustainability benefits of these programmes which will be illustrated in case studies throughout this report. For example, the use of the NHS App exceeded its forecasted growth, and the uptake of remote collaboration and consultation services has grown at pace, all creating significant and positive sustainability impact.
Our sustainability programme has gone from strength to strength over the past year, with a strong and supportive steering committee providing executive level governance and leadership for the delivery workstreams which reach across all areas of our organisation to help ensure we achieve our goal to truly embed sustainability into all our business decisions. We have continued to work at pace to drive rapid de-carbonisation and sustainability improvement whilst preparing, and responding to, the challenges that climate and ecological breakdown brings.