There’s no denying that both the David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg effect in terms of increasing awareness of plastic waste and the environmental impact of climate change has been extraordinary. We’re all becoming much more aware of our carbon footprint - whether it be via offsetting when booking a flight or by how far our food has travelled before we buy it. There is now more focus on climate change than ever before.
We all have a carbon footprint and the NHS is no different. What’s worrying is that it’s a significant one. The NHS produces higher emissions than the global average for healthcare and is responsible for 5.4% of the UK’s total carbon emissions.
Reducing carbon emissions has been on the agenda within the NHS for the last 10 years since the carbon reduction strategy was published, but progress has been slow and nowhere near enough to make an impact on the scale required. Understandably transport is one of the biggest culprits but another big contributor is energy consumption - and data centres sit firmly within this.
Data centres aren’t going anywhere. They’re the physical backbone that supports the digital world. But they are vast consumers of energy, using as much as 17% of global electricity and this isn’t going to decrease any time soon. In fact, as the global demand for data processing and technology increases, predictions suggest that global data centres could use almost 25% of available electricity by 2025.
The key is to become smarter about how data centres are used - and the NHS has an important role to play in this.
Traditionally the NHS don’t make use of cloud computing. Their approach has been to have their own on-premise data centres which means they don’t benefit from sharing servers with other organisations. Coupled with legacy equipment that needs updating, and the physical waste that contributes to their environmental impact, the NHS needs to raise its game if it’s to have any real impact on its carbon footprint.
With figures suggesting that cloud computing could reduce carbon emissions by as much as 50%, moving to the cloud becomes a compelling argument for the NHS and its carbon footprint. Add to it the impact it would have on its financial sustainability and it becomes an even bigger win. Efforts are beginning to be made - for example, the NHS East and North Hertfordshire CCG recently announced that it is using a partnership model which will not only see benefits in terms of infrastructure, finance and customer experience but will also by default reduce their carbon footprint.
The NHS needs to find a way to break out of the current pattern, embrace change and enable the organisation to use its prominent position in the public eye to lead by example on climate change. Doing so will allow today’s health leaders to say to future generations ‘we did our part’.
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