Greening the workplace

Sustainability

Why it matters in health and care, and what the RCN is doing about it

Sustainability is a broad term that captures social, economic and environmental activities needed to ensure a prosperous, safe and equitable world for future generations across the globe.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) also known as the Global Goals, represent 17 areas of action to address global inequalities and tackle climate change.

The 17 SDG's are integrated - they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.

SDG's

Health and care services provided by NHS and independent sectors are a major contributor to climate change contribution, accounting for approximately 5% of global emissions. This equates to roughly 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent or the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 514 coal-fired power plants.

The delivery of health and care requires equipment and consumables which deplete natural resources and create harmful waste and bi-products. This includes how we heat and supply energy to hospitals, manufacture and use consumables and equipment and manage the waste we create. Other factors such as the use of vehicles by staff, patients, procurement agencies and ambulances all contribute to pollution. All of these can increase the burden on health and disease particularly in poor communities or those where inequalities exist.

Conversely, measures to tackle Climate Change, such as reducing petrol vehicle use, tackling air pollution and moving to more plant based diets, can have positive health effects, both at an individual and a societal level. Essentially, action to tackle climate change will bring positive health benefits and vice versa.

The RCN is committed to supporting members and the wider nursing community to deliver care in a way that is environmentally sustainable, reduces inequalities, improves health outcomes, and helps to reduce costs. We believe that nurses have a key role to play in addressing these challenges, and in supporting the development of environmentally friendly and sustainable care.

As the largest part of the health and care workforce, nurses are at the forefront of providing care to communities and people affected by Climate Change. As a profession grounded in science, and one trusted by the public, nurses are also well placed to speak out on this issue and talk to those they care for about the beneficial relationships between Climate Change and health.

Our RCN work on Sustainability is evolving.  RCN members are clear that climate change requires urgent action. RCN work on sustainability, including climate change, is broad and we are working hard to integrate this in all our work.

Member resources

RCN position on climate change

RCN members passed an emergency resolution on climate change at our 2019 Congress . A position paper was subsequently published and can be viewed here.

RCN Sustainability Network

This virtual network is in development. It will support members by sharing information and offering opportunities to shape and contribute to RCN activity on sustainability including climate change. More information will follow shortly. 

RCN Sustainability Education Programme

We are currently developing an online education programme to support members education on sustainability. This is due to launch in 2022. See our professional services pages for more information.

Online Nursing Sustainably Study Guide

The RCN’s online guide includes details of key resources and books on promoting sustainable nursing practice within health and care settings. There are also links to searches for materials available within the RCN's extensive book and journal collections.

RCN Glove Awareness Week (GAW)

This annual focus for awareness raising and activities to support the appropriate use of gloves addresses the three key themes of sustainability, prevention of infection and skin health. In 2022 GAW will run from 2-6th May.

Better procurement

The RCN’s ‘Small Changes, Big Differences’ work is designed to support nurses in making smarter and more sustainable procurement choices, which are good for their services, their patients, and the environment.

Formal Alliances

UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC)

The RCN is a founder member of the Alliance, which brings together leading healthcare professional organisations. It advocates for actions at governmental and system level to tackle climate change and protect and promote public health.

It was formed in 2016 to coordinate action, provide leadership and amplify the voices of the UK’s healthcare professionals on all things relating to Climate Change and sustainability.

You can find out more on the Alliance’s website.

Health Care Without Harm

The RCN is a member of ‘Health Care Without Harm’, an international coalition of health care organisations and professionals.

The coalition shares a vision of a health care sector that does no harm and is committed to preventing disease and promoting the health of people and the environment.

You can find out more on the Health Care Without Harm website.