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Calculating a carbon footprint

A Sussex practice's annual emissions of CO2 are lower than expected, reports Carole Slingsby.

Few GPs have any idea of the size of their practice's carbon footprint.

This measure of how much climate-damaging carbon dioxide is emitted annually is a useful piece of data, as East Sussex practice, the Goodwood Court Medical Centre in Hove has discovered.

GP asked environmental specialists Best Foot Forward (BFF) to calculate the surgery's footprint. Dr Nigel Higson, one of the four GP partners, supplied information about the practice team's energy consumption, car fuel usage and waste management.

Better than expected
BFF worked out that the practice's footprint is 18,994kg of CO2 per year and slightly below BFF's expectations for a small office-based business.

'Given a practice team of 15 people, clearly this practice has made some effort to tackle its carbon emissions,' says BFF's technical director Craig Simmons.

Because 75 per cent of the practice's carbon footprint is attributable to its use of grid electricity, Mr Simmons points out that the surgery could achieve the government's long term 60 per cent emissions reduction target simply by switching energy supplier. 'Just changing to green-grid electricity would achieve this,' he says.

'The average small service-sector business would have a footprint of around 1.2 tonnes of CO2 per staff member. Dr Higson's surgery would seem to be about typical - or slightly lower than average.'

Dr Higson says the surgery's energy usage was far lower than he expected given its 9,000 patients and 37,000 appointment slots a year.

Before receiving BFF's report, he said that trying to cut the practice's carbon emissions was hard - the surgery is in converted garages at the base of a block of flats - and made more difficult by the local authority planning department.

'Hove is on the sunny South Coast. There is considerable potential to harness solar and wind energy, but the council refused (permission for) wind turbines on the dockside in favour of a gas-fuelled power station and gas piped from the North East coast,' he says.

'I appreciate BFF's comments and I am keen to explore green power sources but need to check our current electricity contract.'

BFF suggests the practice explores installation of photovoltaic solar panels. Dr Higson says the building is suited to having solar panels on its roof but this would need to be negotiated with the rest of the block's tenants. But he will be look into changing the surgery's central heating boiler to a more efficient condensing boiler.

Insulate and control
Another BFF suggestion for lowering the practice's footprint is to install better insulation and control systems for the water and heating.

Mr Simmons says the GPs and the practice staff who drive to work could cut the practice's transport emissions by changing to more efficient cars.

'Some small petrol cars that are suited to low-mileage, urban driving emit less than 100g of CO2 per kilometre, almost half the average emissions from a diesel vehicle,' he says.

As for reducing his own car's emissions, Dr Higson has already swapped his 4 x 4 for a more efficient car.

But there are some areas where the practice has no control. The GPs and nurses need to use disposable clinical instruments or sign a commercial contract for sterilising reusable instruments (which will produce carbon emissions).

At present, they are unable to do anything about the amount of paper used for prescriptions. The GPs are keen to move to electronic prescribing but are waiting for their software supplier to produce a suitable program.

BFF also calculated the carbon footprint for patients attending the surgery.

This works out as 2.11kg of CO2 per patient per year. Mr Simmons explains this is roughly the equivalent of travelling 10km by car or leaving 50 light bulbs on for an hour. The figure per consultation for 37,000 appointments a year is 0.51kg of CO2. So around 0.018 per cent of an individual's annual footprint can be attributed to treatment by their GP.

'At 10km per patient per year, it would be cheaper to the environment to close the surgery and just visit patients at home,' is Dr Higson's tongue-in-cheek response.

  • Craig Simmons is technical director of environmental specialists Best Foot Forward (www.bestfootforward.com). For a free trial of the firm's Footprinter online carbon footprint calculator, visit www.footprinter.com
  • Visit www.healthcarerepublic.com/greenGP for GP newspaper's online resource centre for going green

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