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RCP’s commitment to environmental sustainability

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) is deeply committed to minimising the environmental impacts of its operations and is continually seeking innovative ways to improve its sustainability.

As a royal college and employer

Since the opening of the Regent’s Perk café, the RCP has been working with its waste provider, First Mile to eliminate plastics in the canteen, replacing them with compostable food containers. If processed properly, this method can produce gas for heating and energy, and a biofertiliser for soil enrichment. CH&Co, RCP’s caterer, was awarded three stars by the Sustainable Restaurant Association for its commitment to sustainability and uses locally-sourced ingredients and environmentally friendly-packaging to help combat its environmental damage. 

The RCP’s new home at The Spine in Liverpool will be one of the healthiest buildings in the UK, designed to consider sustainability and to meet the internationally renowned WELL standard to increase human health and wellbeing. The RCP operates an agile working system to utilise space efficiently, while Skype video conferencing is used to reduce the environmental impact of travel. Staff are also encouraged to be involved in RCP’s sustainability strategies through the Environmental Working Group.

In 2018, the Royal College of Physicians was the first royal college to receive Carbon Trust Standard in recognition of its commitment to sustainable working. The certification followed a reduction of 30% in the RCP’s total carbon footprint over the past 3 years, as well as the organisation switching its electricity provision entirely to 100% renewable energy.

Last year, RCP's efforts to reduce its environmental impact resulted in the recycling of 4,925kg of cardboard, 9,125kg of paper, 18,000kg of glass and 6000kg of junk, saving 560 trees and 64 tonnes of co2.

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Within the NHS

Each year, the NHS produces more carbon emissions than all the planes taking off from Heathrow combined. That contributes significantly to global climate change and presents a huge and imminent threat to health, and therefore service demand.

The RCP’s report, Breaking the fever: Sustainability and climate change in the NHS gives an overview of the impact of climate change on healthcare in the UK. It also explores how physicians and the NHS can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In England, there are 165 hospital trusts with a combined expenditure of over £4.6 billion per annum on medical supplies and other consumables. What we use and how we dispose of it has an impact not only on the finances of the NHS but the environment and population health. RCP’s Less waste, more health report explains how health professionals can positively influence societal health and wellbeing by making simple changes to the procurement and disposal of medical supplies.

The RCP submitted evidence to the NHS Net Zero call for evidence, which was seeking ideas on how the NHS could reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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As a public health promoter

The RCP has a long history of promoting public health through evidence-based policy. Physicians and medical professionals have a key role to play not only in managing ill health, but also in supporting people to live healthier lives.

Led by RCP’s special adviser on air quality Professor Stephen Holgate, the college is working with colleagues across the UK's major health institutions to tackle public health challenges posed by air pollution. 40,000 deaths a year are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution which we know plays a role in many of the major health challenges of our day.

The RCP’s report, Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution sets out the dangerous impact air pollution is currently having on our nation’s health. It offers a number of major reform proposals setting to tackle the problem of air pollution and emphasises how the public can do their part to reduce pollutant exposure.

Since the publication of Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution, the RCP has been working closely with policymakers to take forward recommendations from the report. We have been contributing to Public Health England’s work on developing a strong evidence base on the health impacts of air pollution and gave oral evidence to MPs as part of a joint select committee inquiry on air quality.  

The RCP is a founding member of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change which brings together doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to advocate for better responses to climate change that protect and promote public health.

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