Get on your bike to boost sustainability

Sussex Community NHS Trust’s award-winning Care Without Carbon strategy is reducing waste and energy consumption by encouraging staff to make green pledges or accept ‘dares’, for example to recycle more or travel to work by bike. The approach is saving money and improving the health and fitness of staff.

Before Mike Dixon goes to see a new client, he will often warn them that he will be turning up in fluorescent cycle gear.

The carer health clinician is one of a growing number of nurses in Sussex who have abandoned the car in favour of a nippy folding electric bike. Mr Dixon and his Coyote Connect are a regular feature on the streets of his patch, where he is reducing his carbon footprint, promoting his own health and encouraging clients and colleagues to do the same.

‘I cover the whole of West Sussex as part of a team that works with carers, looking at their health and wellbeing,’ he says. ‘It’s a big area, but there is a great train service that goes all along the coast [the bike can be carried on the train].

‘I’m 56 years old and I wanted to get a bit healthier – then I heard about electric bikes and thought it would be just the thing. The clients really like it – they can see I’m actually living the health and wellbeing advice – and I like it too. I feel fitter and more relaxed.’

Mr Dixon’s employer, Sussex Community NHS Trust, is a pioneer in sustainability. Its Care Without Carbon sustainable health strategy won the public sector category at the 2015 Finance for the Future awards, organised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales and the Prince of Wales’ Accounting for Sustainability project.

Although accolades are welcome, the trust has its eye on a bigger prize: creating a more sustainable health service. And all staff in the organisation are being encouraged to do their bit to make a difference.

‘All trusts are having to think about what sustainability means to them, and for us it’s important to keep it simple,’ explains the trust’s associate director of energy and environment Will Clark. ‘The NHS is overloaded with initiatives, so we realised it was only by getting staff engaged that we could make a difference.’

The Care Without Carbon project uses deliberately playful language and techniques to encourage involvement. ‘The penny dropped for us a couple of years ago,’ says Mr Clark. ‘We wanted to change the mindset of staff: sustainability and health are the same thing, and healthy lifestyles are important.’

Transport is a good example. ‘Because 90% of our work is done in the community, we were travelling six million miles per year – that’s the equivalent of going to the moon and back 12 and a half times,’ he says. ‘We’ve brought that down to four million miles by encouraging staff to think of alternatives.’

Take the dare

The Care Without Carbon approach involves staff making one or more green pledges from an ever-evolving range of actions – from reusing and recycling at work to making sure lights and machinery are switched off. These pledges are called ‘dares’, and participating employees have the chance to win a monthly prize. ‘We don’t nag staff, but we encourage them to engage,’ says Mr Clark. ‘More than 500 staff have signed up – around 15-20% of the workforce – and we have been spreading the word through roadshows.’

Importantly, patients are involved too, he adds. ‘We asked them whether the trust should be taking action on sustainability and whether we should have a responsibility to talk to patients about their own sustainability – and it turned out they thought we should. So now our proactive care teams in Brighton are seeing opportunities when they visit people at home, to improve energy efficiency, for example, or lead healthier lifestyles.’

The local clinical commissioning group is joining in, he says, and wants to promote health and wellbeing in primary care. ‘It’s great for team-building,’ he adds.

The next step will be greater engagement with patients. ‘Nurses will be critical because they are our major advocates and have influence with service users,’ says Mr Clark.

One nurse who is making an impact at the trust is Will Burgess. The school nurse set up the Step Up dare to encourage staff to climb the equivalent of Everest (or 58,070 steps) one step at a time (www.carewithoutcarbon.org/taking-everest-one-step-time). He says: ‘I’m conscious we have one planet and one life and we have to make the effort to look after both.’

The trust’s chief nurse Susan Marshall says as well as promoting health and saving carbon, being sustainable can bring financial benefits. ‘Caring for patients inevitably brings a host of environmental effects that are becoming increasingly expensive to manage. By reducing energy and waste, recycling more and – particularly for a community trust – finding alternatives to motorised travel, NHS organisations can make financial savings, which can be reinvested into front line care.’

How nurses can green the NHS

Travel and exercise – walk, cycle and use public transport when practical

Communication – use new technology where possible to remove the need to travel

Food and drink – promote healthy meals, using fruit and vegetables from local suppliers, less red meat, and less packaging on processed foods

Buying and commissioning – add expectations on carbon reduction and sustainability to contracts

Waste – ask ‘can we use less…? Can it be reused? Can it be recycled? Proper segregation of waste will save money and reduce carbon in disposal

Models of care – nursing staff have a unique perspective and should be involved in the design of more efficient methods of care delivery.

(Based on the Sustainable Development Unit and the RCN’s five to survive factsheet – www.sduhealth.org.uk/5tosurvive )

This view is shared by David Pencheon, director of the Sustainable Development Unit, a national organisation funded by NHS England and Public Health England to promote sustainability in the NHS, public health and social care system. ‘If the NHS is to set an example of how to improve health and treat illness then we need to do it within the limits of the financial, social and environmental resources. The health system in this country is one of the first to have a national sustainable development strategy. Nurses have a great opportunity to help tackle these challenges and promote sustainable development.’

As for Mr Dixon, he still uses the car sometimes. ‘But I love the bike: it’s the perfect solution as it is so light and portable, yet it really takes the sting out of the Sussex hills,’ he says. ‘And it’s good for the environment too’.


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