One year on: Placing people at the heart of the climate emergency
17 March 2022
Abigail Hopewell, head of leadership and OD at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, discusses the commitments made to make the NHS the first net zero health service and what you can do locally to help the NHS build a greener future.
In October 2020 the NHS announced its vision to become the first net zero health service and respond to climate change, improving health now and for future generations.
In this blog I give a brief overview what’s happened since then and consider steps organisation development (OD) professionals can take in response to the climate and ecological emergency.
A year of change?
My first blogpost exploring what OD has to do with the climate and ecological emergency was published in early 2021. What followed was a big year for our climate. Not only was July the world’s hottest month ever recorded 1 , Wales experienced its wettest May on record and autumn was the UK’s third warmest on record 2 . Weather patterns are already more unpredictable and extreme; this is expected to worsen over the coming years resulting in more frequent flooding, droughts and storms which will inevitably impact, to varying degrees, our infrastructure, food supplies and population health outcomes.
Following the global COP26 held in November 2021, the UK Government published its third Climate Change Risk Assessment 3 in January 2022, which recognised the need for preparation and adaptation of the country’s infrastructure for the impacts of the climate crisis. It identified a wide range of potential costly impacts of climate change including on health and productivity, affecting many of our households, businesses and public services.
NHS organisations have been tasked with producing a 3-year green plan which clearly articulates their net zero strategy.
Furthermore, soon after COP26 the Rt Hon Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, wrote to all trusts reiterating the importance of efforts to achieve net zero and improve biodiversity of the NHS estate. He also explained that, as part of his statutory responsibility to review the NHS constitution in 2022, he wants to ensure that ‘net zero and biodiversity are part of the very values and principles that underpin our NHS.’ 4
This is also reflected in the Future of NHS Human Resources and Organisational Development paper 5 published at the end of 2021. Amongst many other things, it recognises our changing society and world of work, and highlights the intersection of climate change with issues relating to inequalities and social justice.
Climate change is a matter of concern for the public we serve and those we work alongside.
Taking action locally
In the last year, my trust has launched a Green Champions Network which has almost 150 members. Gloucestershire Hospitals is in the first cohort of trusts applying for the Nursing & Midwifery Pathway to Excellence accreditation 6 and one important aspect of this is to establish Professional Shared Decision-Making Councils to strengthen engagement and collective leadership. To give more voice to our Green Champions Network, we have adopted this approach by launching a green council which is chaired by an administrator and a nurse. Subgroups have been set up which report into the council and these lead on specific focus areas in our new Green Plan, such as travel; greenhouse gases; green space and biodiversity; sustainable models of care; and people.
Placing people at the heart of the climate emergency agenda
The climate emergency is a complex issue, which needs to be addressed against an increasingly uncertain backdrop of global events. We will only make demonstrable progress by working together to think innovatively, work creatively and embed sustainable long-term changes.
As OD professionals, we can – and, I believe, must - make a unique and important contribution to this field of work.
Our backgrounds, skills and expertise can help in several ways. For example;
- by facilitating group processes and helping ensure a diverse range of voices are heard
- by working with leaders to help them consider how they may need to behave or make decisions differently
- by supporting our organisational cultures to explore what behavioural and mindset shifts are required to bring about change.
A year ahead of action?
As we look towards 2022-23 in Gloucestershire Hospitals, we will continue to strengthen and embed the work of our Green Council and look forward to celebrating the first birthday of our Green Champions Network on Earth Day, 22 April 2022. We will also look to build and strengthen our connections with colleagues across the health and social care system, and identify ways to collaborate on green matters.
The calls to action have never been clearer. I challenge and invite everyone who does OD to get involved and take action, somehow, if they aren’t doing so already.
A good start is to read your organisation’s green plan and build a relationship with your head of sustainability. Offer to help. You can beBe a presence in this agenda; work on yourself and use yourself in service of our planet, our people, our systems, and the generations to come that we will never know of.
We can’t do any of this alone! I am keen to develop a virtual community of OD professionals who work in the health and social care sector and who would be interested to connect with other like-minded OD colleagues. A safe space to share learning, ideas, and provide mutual support from time-to-time. If you would be interested, please email email@example.com.
The Do OD team will continue to support this work and keep it on the OD agenda. Delivered by NHS Employers in partnership with NHS England, Do OD is the expert resource on OD for health and care. Find out more about the Do OD programme.
- 1. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/programs/geh/geh_newsletter/2021/10/articles/2021_international_climate_change_reports_assess_the_earths_climate.cfm accessed 23rd February 2022 ↑
- 2. https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/press-office/news/weather-and-climate/2021/2021-a-year-in-weather-a-review accessed 23rd February 2022 ↑
- 3. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-publishes-uks-third-climate-change-risk-assessment accessed 23rd February 2022 ↑
- 4. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/open-letter-to-nhs-trusts-on-net-zero-commitment/cop26-and-the-nhs-sajid-javids-open-letter-to-all-nhs-trusts-in-england accessed 23rd February 2022 ↑
- 5. https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/B0659_The-future-of-NHS-human-resources-and-organisational-development-report_22112021.pdf accessed 23rd February 2022 ↑
- 6. https://www.england.nhs.uk/nursingmidwifery/shared-governance-and-collective-leadership/nursing-midwifery-excellence/ accessed 7th March 2022 ↑