Terry Kemple writes about a new, free online non-clinical carbon footprint calculator designed for General Practices.

Non clinical greenhouse gas emissions account for about 40% of the emissions from primary care. For the first time it’s easy to measure your general practice’s carbon footprint. This is the new and free online non-clinical carbon footprint calculator www.gpcarbon.org for General Practices in the UK. It measures and identifies the non-clinical greenhouse gas emission hotspots from running general practices and produces a carbon equivalent footprint.

Most of us are carbon illiterate. This may change in the years to come and UKHACC has a simple starter guide to carbon literacy but for the moment we can read the numbers about our greenhouse gas emissions but they don’t mean anything. We can’t have any meaningful conversations with others comparing and contrasting our absolute and relative carbon footprints. Without this feedback on our emissions it is hard to make improvements. I struggled and tried to use some of the generic carbon foot printing tools in my general practice in 2015-17 but eventually gave up because it was too difficult and too time consuming. It wasn’t a DIY job, it was a still job for a specialist to do for us.

All the surveys seem to show that people are concerned about the climate and ecological emergency  and most want to do something but a problem is that they don’t know what to do or where to start. That’s why the RCGP created the free GP Green Impact of health toolkit https://greenimpact.org.uk/giforhealth in 2014. The latest version provides over a hundred answers to the question what can we, or should we do in our practice to improve our sustainability and work towards a net zero carbon service.

Seven years’ experience with the Green Impact toolkit seem to reveal three main blocks to making progress with sustainability in general practice. The first is the crisis in GP workload and workforce and a lack of resources to do this work. GPs are too busy doing their main job to take on the extra challenges of mitigating and adapting for climate change. This needs to be addressed by the NHS and others. General practice still seems an after-thought in all the planning in the NHS. Our politicians understanding of NHS general practice has been compared to dogs watching television – they can see it but they just don’t get it. Anyone who has this continuing blindness can usually be cured by reading the short 1989 BMJ article The Gatekeeper and the Wizard: a fairy tale  that explains why it is important for the NHS to have good primary care and secondary care services that each know their place, and value each other.

The second is that whilst many general practices may have a green champion what they need is a green team to take and share the actions to improve their sustainability. This has to be addressed by the practice and its local support organisations. It may be true that a GP can do anything but he/she can’t do everything. Nothing may be  impossible as long as you don’t have to do everything yourself. We all have to work in teams to make the most progress. The African saying is ‘if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go with others’.

The third block to greater progress is that practices (just like everyone else) are mostly carbon illiterate and it has been very difficult for practices to calculate and know their carbon footprint. If they can’t measure it then they really can’t manage it.

The good news is that this new carbon calculator for general practice is both quick and easy to use so everyone can start to understand what causes their avoidable or changeable carbon footprints and start to make the changes to reduce their carbon emissions and work towards net zero. Practices can only really make this progress if they have the knowledge they need. A bonus is that sharing this knowledge about their practice’s carbon footprints and comparing it with others will make practices more aware when they are outliers and make them want to change.

The methodology used in the calculator can be easily adapted for other primary care organisations like dentists and pharmacists in the UK and  amended for use in other countries where the underlying national data that supports the calculations is available.

You can find out more by reading the background information about the calculator.

Terry Kemple is UK Royal College of General Practitioners National Representative for Sustainability, Climate Change and Green Issues; Lead for Green Impact for Health Toolkit; Executive member of UK Health Alliance for Climate Change