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Climate change and our practice

Dr Christine Habgood and Dr Sally Barnard give an update on cutting CO2 emissions at their surgery.

Green steps taken at the Mile oak Medical Centre include installing insulation and switching to renewable energy electricity supplier
Green steps taken at the Mile oak Medical Centre include installing insulation and switching to renewable energy electricity supplier

The United Nations' climate change conference in Copenhagen is in full swing this week and should help all GPs to focus on going green at the practice.

Energy efficiency has been on the agenda for our team at the Mile Oak Medical Centre in Brighton for some years. We started planning a rebuild in the summer of 2003 and eventually moved in to the new building two years later.

During the design phase we worked closely with the architect on a brief that placed energy efficiency high on the priority list. The green measures included in the new building were featured in GP in 2007 (GP, 2 March 2007).

However, this was only the start of the journey: much was still to be done to make this a way of life for all the people based at the building. Everyone needs to be in the habit of being constantly aware of their energy use and its environmental impact.

Engaging the practice
We have had regular discussions about use of electricity and heat, composting and recycling, both in formal practice meetings and informal conversations over coffee and lunch.

The whole team buys into the project and now we hope that showing how to make changes will inspire other practices.

Dr Christine Habgood says: 'As an advocate of change I recently sat down to calculate my personal carbon footprint.

'I have already made changes in my own life: I have been a vegetarian for 25 years, insulated my house and reduced car use. I avoid non-essential air travel and have changed to a renewable electricity supplier.

'The measures I have taken personally put my footprint 40 per cent below the national average. I am now investigating using an electrically powered moped to travel to work and for visiting patients.'

Dr Sally Barnard replies: 'In contrast, I have always thought my greener partner is slightly eccentric. But seeing the film The Age of Stupid came as a huge prompt to make urgent changes at home, installing solar-powered water heating and finally insulating the loft.'

Released this year, the film features an old man in a devastated world of 2055 watching 'archive' footage from 2008 and asking why we did not stop climate change.

But what we both personally do is less effective in making a contribution to climate change issues than persuading others also to make changes.

The practice has decided to sign up to and promote the 10:10 campaign among our colleagues and patients. Launched on the back of The Age of Stupid, this is a nationwide campaign to reduce our carbon emissions by 10 per cent in 2010.

Smaller personal carbon footprint
  • Public transport instead of car.
  • Walking or cycling.
  • Ultra-energy-efficient car.
  • Avoiding air travel.
  • Insulating the home.
  • Lower thermostat settings.
  • Energy-efficient electrical equipment.
  • Reducing meat and dairy consumption.

Passing on the message
There are 25 people in the practice team. If we all reduced our own energy use by 10 per cent in 2010, that would be a good start. There are 7,000 patients in our practice. If some of those in turn could also be prompted to make changes, the impact could be huge compared to one GP going a deeper shade of green.

Sometimes we make changes because we feel guilty, but other motivators may be more powerful. For example, sharing wonderful vegetarian recipes might gradually reduce meat-eating and thus methane emissions. Or maybe the bicycle or electric moped will seem such fun that more cars are left at home.

Following discussions at a team meeting, we decided to put on a showing of The Age of Stupid for staff and patients.

The first plan was to use the waiting room, but we soon realised that we do not have enough chairs. So we approached the primary school next door. They were delighted at the idea; we realised that many others in the community share our concerns.

Our current thinking is that it might be possible to install a solar-powered water-heating system, reducing overheads by sharing capital costs between the school, medical centre and community centre.

If each GP practice receiving copies of this week's GP could also sign up to 10:10 and reduce its energy use by 10 per cent in 2010, this would have national impact. If each could become agents of change in their community, the impact would be really impressive.

  •  Dr Habgood and Dr Barnard practise at the Mile Oak Medical Centre in Brighton
Changes at Mile Oak Medical Centre
  • High-specification insulation.
  • Monitoring current gas and electricity consumption.
  • Turning off all electrical equipment when not in use.
  • Reviewing travel to work and staff visiting arrangements.
  • Recycling paper, card, glass, plastic and batteries.
  • Composting vegetable waste.
  • Changing to an energy supplier generating 100 per cent renewable electricity.


Our current and future plans
  • Going public with our concerns about climate change and the urgent need for us all to take steps to reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Showing The Age of Stupid in the local primary school and displaying 10:10 campaign material in the waiting room for all to read and take away.
  • Digging up the practice garden to grow vegetables (the council allotment waiting list is closed).
  • Using an electric moped (charged on renewable electricity).
  • Reducing thermostat settings from 20 degsC to 18 degsC.
  • Installing an efficient water heater for hot drinks.
  • Looking at community projects such as joint solar water heating


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