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Net Zero in NHS Procurement

As part of the environmental sustainability agenda, NHS England has made no secret of its dual aim to meet its net zero carbon targets whilst at the same time satisfying its Social Value priorities.

From 1st April 2022, NHSE began applying this principle to all commissioning and purchase of goods and services by NHS organisations, as well as to organisations acting on behalf of commissioners and purchasers.

In this article, we’ll look at one of these social value priorities—the fight against climate change—and ask what it means for the NHS, its staff and patients.

Social value

This means that the value to society and communities should be explicitly evaluated in all central government procurement activity, and the themes identified should be present through the delivery of every contract signed. These themes are:

  • COVID-19 recovery
  • Tackling economic inequality
  • Fighting climate change
  • Equal opportunity
  • Wellbeing

Net zero

By 2045, the NHS wants to reach net zero. To do this, the more than 60% of emissions that come from the supply chain need to be tackled head on.

Net zero is a term we hear all the time. It’s the mantra for many businesses, both large and small. But what does it really mean? The Carbon Trust defines it (simplified wording) as:

“emission reductions which will limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and neutralising any carbon that cannot be eliminated by permanently removing an equivalent amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

For the NHS, the main concept underpinning the ‘fighting climate change’ theme is how we can be more effective stewards of the environment. 

NHS contracts: what does ‘good’ look like?

There is a wide array of different types of contracts used every day in the NHS. They all have an environmental impact. There are logistics contracts (delivery vehicles and staff movement for example); cleaning contracts (which uses hazardous chemicals and has to manage waste); and food and catering contracts (sourcing, transporting and processing ingredients, and dealing with food waste).

The NHS says that all contracts and their delivery should:

  • Deliver additional environmental benefits in the performance of the contract including working towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Influence staff, suppliers, customers and communities through the delivery of the contract to support environmental protection and improvement.

In-Scope organisations

If this initiative is really to work fully, all organisations including all small and medium enterprises, voluntary, social and community ones, will have to play their part. In effect this means all central government departments, their executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies.

Net zero and social value criteria will need to be in the procurement and tender documents. These might include detailing how parties involved will show:

  • How single use plastics and packaging will be reduced
  • How services might be digitised to reduce resources/emissions
  • How electric/hydrogen vehicles and cargo bikes could be used
  • How altering delivery slots can consolidate and reduce travel
  • How carbon in the supply chain and embedded within products can be reduced
  • How they will report carbon from key products and operations

Further information to help you and your practice be greener - why not explore some of the following resources?

You can check your personal carbon footprint at the following link using the WWF’s calculator. Small businesses can try this carbon footprint calculator, or visit the Energy Saving Trust. To find out more about The Green Practice Network, email And a really easy way for your practice to move towards environmentally sustainable practice is to use the Green Impact for Health Audit created by the RCGP and NUS.

NHS England and NHS Improvement Sustainable Procurement Team:


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