What we mean by sustainability

When NICE guidance makes recommendations, it is often necessary to change the way health and care is delivered. This change may have some impact on the environment.

Sustainability is about assessing and reducing the environmental impact of applying NICE recommendations when possible. Commissioners and providers have a responsibility to promote an environmentally sustainable health and care system.

NICE’s commitment to sustainability

In 2011, the government made a commitment to include sustainability in all it does, setting targets to reduce emissions across all departments.  NICE adheres to these ‘greening government commitments’ to reduce carbon emissions, water use, waste and supply chain impacts.  We report our progress to the board annually.

We also support the vision statement published by the NHS SDU.

For the future, we are exploring how to support the health and care system to promote sustainable implementation of guidance recommendations. 

This may include publishing environmental impact assessments along with our cost impact assessments for recommendations.  This information would allow commissioners and providers to account for environmental impact at the time of implementation.

Resources are also available from the NHS SDU. These explain general principles of environmental sustainability and show case studies of how commissioners and providers have reduced the environmental impact of their operations.

Why sustainability is important

There is lots of evidence supporting the need to improve environmental sustainability in health and social care.  This is for the wider environmental benefits and to improve social and financial sustainability. 

According to the NHS SDU:

  • health and care system had a carbon footprint of about 26.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2015, representing 39% of public sector emissions in England
  • the cumulative savings from energy measures alone between 2007 and 2015 amount to somewhere in the region of £1.85bn, in addition to the environmental and health benefits.

A sustainable health and care system works within the available environmental and social resources, protecting and improving health now and for future generations...

NHS Sustainable Development Unit (SDU)