University of Leeds Master’s student, Pooja Verma, talks to us about her research on the barriers that NHS Trusts face when measuring and reporting scope 3 emissions.

What is scope 3 and why is it important?

Scope 3 refers to the indirect greenhouse gas emissions that occur throughout a company’s value chain. These emissions are generated by the production and consumption of goods and services the company produces or uses, including emissions from suppliers, transportation and waste management. These emissions are important because they are often significant in quantity, accounting for 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally and are difficult to control / measure.

It is crucial that organisations address these emissions to effectively reduce their overall carbon footprint and contribute to the eventual goal of Net Zero by 2050, explained by the UK Government in their latest strategy Powering Up Britain. In doing so, organisations can also manage the potential risks in their supply chain, increase efficiency and improve their reputation as a responsible organisation. Read our blog post about ‘What is Net Zero?’.

How is scope 3 currently measured?

The general NHS emissions reporting framework is currently based on the GHG Protocol corporate standard, a framework established by WRI and WBCSD to calculate all three scopes, but not all Trusts follow the same procedure. From her research so far, Pooja has been able to establish that some Trusts use carbon calculator tools to simplify and speed up the process.

Regarding scope 3 specifically, the NHS categorises emission sources in two ways: the NHS carbon footprint and NHS carbon footprint plus. The NHS carbon footprint refers to the carbon footprint of the national health service direct and indirect emissions associated with operations and activities, excluding several categories from scope 3 and travel outside of GHGP scopes. Developed by Greener NHS, the NHS carbon footprint plus includes a broader range of scope 3 emissions sources and additional travel emissions from patients and visitors.

Delivering a Net Zero NHS, 2022

The NHS is aiming to reach net zero by 2040 for the emissions that they have control of directly, and net zero by 2045 for the emissions they have the ability to influence. On the 1st of July 2022, the NHS became the first health system to embed Net Zero legislation into its operational structure through the Health and Care Act 2022. A harmonious approach to emissions calculations is, therefore, crucial.

What scope 3 barriers does the NHS they face?

Of England’s total carbon footprint, the estimated emissions associated with the NHS account for 4%. Though this may seem an insignificant figure, in 2022 an estimated 417.1 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents were emitted by the United Kingdom, meaning the emissions produced and associated with the NHS were equivalent to the average yearly emissions of Jordan, an entire country!

Though NHS Trusts are working hard to tackle their emissions via their Green Plans, scope 3 can represent a substantial challenge. It often represents a large portion of the organisation’s total emissions and is usually many times higher than combined scope 1 and 2 emissions. As they are indirect in nature and occur outside the direct control of the reporting organisation, an accurate dataset can be difficult to achieve.

To better understand the complex barriers that NHS Trusts face when collating and analysing scope 3 data, Pooja aims to conduct strategic interviews with a range of sustainability professionals in the sector, with the aim of streamlining methods of calculation.

“Taking care of people should include more than just providing healthcare; it should also consider the general well-being of the people, which is being hampered by the consequences of climate change!”

Pooja Verma

Overcoming the barriers

By collaborating with WRM (Walker Resource Management Ltd), a sustainability and environmental consultancy, this research will present a window of opportunity to establish a rigorous framework for NHS Trusts to adopt, that will support the accurate quantification and reporting of scope 3 emissions.

To support workforce engagement with emissions reductions, WRM are also offering free carbon literacy training to those working in the NHS. The sessions were made in collaboration with The Carbon Literacy Project and E-Learning for Healthcare and will be running until September.

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