Hospital building

Cameron Hawkins: Tackling the challenges of decarbonising the NHS estate

The impact climate change is having on the planet has been brought to the forefront of our attention recently, with the latest IPCC report. Even before the detailed report, the NHS announced plans for change and a greener future by 2040.

NHS Property Services are regarded as the largest owner of primary care, with over 3,000 buildings across the NHS estate. This is equal to a carbon footprint of 104,000 tonnes of CO2. But in the last two years or so this has been reduced by over 14,000 tonnes. As well as the reduction in their carbon footprint, over £16m worth of savings has been achieved in the last two years.  

Cameron Hawkins, Head of Energy and Environment, at NHS Property Services, spoke to NHE about the current energy procurement strategy being put together, what some of the biggest challenges are around decarbonising the NHS estate, and the main discussion points ahead of the NHE365 event on 25 Aug.

The main areas Mr Hawkins will discuss are:

  • The work NHS Property Services are doing
  • Challenges behind the changes
  • What changes should happen

Mr Hawkins’ role was recognised about two and a half years ago as an integral part of the organisation, with a team then being built around this. The team are responsible for covering utilities, procuring electricity, gas, and water, as well as providing the sustainability data back to their occupiers. Some of their work so far has involved putting together their ‘Energy Efficiency of Decarbonisation strategy’.

“My background has been much more in the commercial sector and helping organisations look at more of the consultancy or project management aspects. So, I came in to identify the gaps that we needed not only in terms of legislation, but what's also best in class type deliverables, and then work out that action plan in terms of how we can actually deliver it.”

He outlined how the substantial changes to the NHS estate, such as using more energy efficient providers and changing equipment, will hugely impact the running of the organisation, and what the key challenges around this are.

“My role previously has been around energy efficiency, and what's the commercial payback? And if we implement new lighting or BMS control, and such like that, how quickly can we get that money refunded in terms of energy savings? Or in terms of our environmental management system, how much are we minimizing the risk of environmental and environmental incident, whether it's a diesel spill or air pollution?

“So, when moving to the decarbonisation strategy, and those priorities, we're now having to look at so many other different items that wouldn't normally be considered. So, it's not just the case of okay, we'll put in a normal boiler, but we'll make that boiler more energy efficient, we now have to remove that boiler.

“And we have to fundamentally change the design of the building, putting in more insulation, putting in greater controls, all these aspects that we wouldn't usually consider previously, because we didn't need to have the funding, or our priority was to reduce savings or make sure that the heating was on.”

NHS Property Services are also facing unique challenges when it comes to moving from that typical energy efficiency aspect to the decarbonisation process, including what information needs to be gathered now.

 “It's not just your normal backlog maintenance or where a building might be inefficient that you need to start gathering more data from in terms of being able to make this informed decision on where to decarbonize.

“It's how you can set that up originally, what data you need to start collecting now to then be able to make decisions on it, as well as what some of the decisions are that you should be making, in terms of what areas you should be targeting such as electric vehicles or infrastructure, and what sort of things you should be doing to enable this to happen. Even if you can't decarbonize right at the moment, being prepared is key.”

Trusts have already taken different approaches and set up strategies in place to help them work towards being net zero by 2040, with some aiming for an earlier date. Some of the obstacles to achieving this include trying to decarbonize the clinical aspects, the medical gases and inhalers, which make up almost half of the NHS's carbon footprint.

NHS Property Services have found that some may not have big sustainability teams or the capacity to be as ahead on some of the changes needed, so they have focussed on advising on the infrastructure side of things to help with the net zero goal.

“For me, this is a fascinating step in terms of how to reduce our environmental impact. And as we see the challenges of what climate change is doing, it's quite often just been a monetary maintenance conversation in terms of what's commercially, the thing to do. And now this is more of a long-term societal issue. “

You can join Mr Hawkins and many other healthcare professionals at NHE365’s Net-Zero NHS event on 25 Aug. You can register for the event here.

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