Examples that inspire us

  • Inspiration
  • Success stories
  • Good practices

Climate action is already underway in all sectors of society and there are many credible and inspiring decarbonisation practices to learn from. From sustainable century-old methods to innovative operational shifts, this growing bank of success stories demonstrates that solutions for the climate are increasingly accessible, feasible and beneficial.

The NHS approach to reducing supply chain emissions

In October 2020, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) announced the ambitious goal to become the world’s first net zero national health service (1). With 62% of its emissions occurring in the supply chain, the NHS defined a clear pathway to take suppliers on the decarbonisation journey. The NHS is responsible for about 4% of Britain’s emissions. As NHS Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens, stated: “[…] as the biggest employer in this country comprising nearly a tenth of the UK economy, we’re both part of the problem and part of the solution”. Having clearly recognised that the climate emergency is also a health emergency, the NHS started the “For a Greener NHS” programme in January 2020 in order to define a credible path to achieving net-zero emissions (2).

Supply chain emissions (totalling 15.6 MtCO2e or 62% of total emissions) include the manufacturing of goods, freight, catering, business services and construction. The largest share is mostly from the manufacturing of goods such as pharmaceuticals and chemicals (32% of total supply chain emissions or 5.1 MtCO2e), as well as medical equipment (19% of total supply chain emissions or 3.0 MtCO2e) (3). The NHS has a large supplier base, with more than 80,000 suppliers – getting them on board to decarbonise their products and production processes is a key challenge, but also an opportunity to drive ambitious climate action.

The NHS identified three major levers to reduce emissions from the its supply chain and to deliver the net-zero targets (4):

  • more efficient use of supplies
  • low-carbon substitutions and product innovation (5)
  • ensuring suppliers are decarbonising their own processes

The decarbonisation of suppliers has been identified as the single most impactful activity in reducing the NHS Carbon Footprint Plus in the NHS “Delivering a Net Zero National Health Service” report (6).

To make this happen, the NHS has set out clear and transparent expectations for their supplier base. By the end of the decade, the NHS will no longer purchase from suppliers that do not meet or exceed its net-zero requirements.

Read more about this success story here.

Shift to sea freight at MSF France

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) France has significantly reduced its share of air transport and increased the volume of goods transported by sea freight. In the 2010s, 70% of the total volume of goods was transported by air. In 2021, 67% of goods transported were by sea freight and only 29% by air. This shift has facilitated financial savings, as sea transport is much less expensive than air transport. 

This change is the result of a process of reflection carried out in collaboration with the medical management of the organisation’s entire supply chain. The planning of medical orders was identified as the main lever for improvement. Previously, many “urgent” orders, sent by air, were destined for regular projects, not emergency projects. They were most often intended to make up for stock shortages that can be anticipated and avoided through proper planning. To better plan orders and avoid the use of air transport, MSF France has developed a tool in the form of “Lead Time Performance” sheets, in which the supply process is broken down into 10 key stages.  

 

An important part of our work has been to deconstruct the belief among medical managers that the ship takes too long. Caroline Blondel, MSF France Supply Manager

 

According to Doctors Without Borders France’s supply managers, it is possible to go further. Medicines that need to be kept in a cold chain could be transported in refrigerated sea containers with a constant internal temperature of between 2° and 8°. 

Read more about this success story here.

Reducing air travel at ETH Zurich

ETH Zurich is a public research university in Switzerland, which focuses primarily on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Working in a participatory process since 2018 with the Executive Board, departments and administrative units, ETH Zurich has committed to a reduction of 11% of their flight emissions per capita from 2019 to 2025 compared to the average for the years 2016-2018. In 2021, some of the departments increased their reduction target so that the ETH-​wide reduction target is now 15%. ETH Zurich has developed a wide range of concrete and innovative measures to achieve the reduction target.

Read more about this success story here.

A more circular approach to textile procurement at the Ministry of Defence of the Netherlands

The Ministry of Defence of the Netherlands is responsible for the military, national defence matters and veterans. As part of the Dutch Government’s Circular Procurement Green Deal, the Ministry of Defence of the Netherlands asked its suppliers to submit proposals for textiles that contain at least 10% recycled fibres.

Each bid was assigned a score out of a possible 100 points based on price, the maximum percentage of recycled content and certification of this, and data sheets demonstrating the quality and materials used. 

Six suppliers submitted bids, however, only four were able to meet the requirements. Awarded in June 2016, the contracts were worth approximately €430,000 for towels and wash cloths and €1.38 million for overalls, containing 36% and 14% of recycled fibres respectively. It generated estimated savings of 233 million litres of water, 69,000 kgCO2 and 23 MJ of energy. In parallel, a third party was contracted to sort existing items of clothing for reuse and resale.  

As this was a pilot procedure, no limit was placed on the price per product. The use of recycled postconsumer materials in new products resulted in a 25% price increase, compared to the previous contract. At the same time, a separate eight-year contract was also signed for reuse services, in which a third party was contracted to sort items of clothing for reuse and resale, with income being returned to the Ministry.  

Read more about this success story here.

Painting the roofs of buildings white: a century-old practice

Painting the roofs of buildings white helps cool buildings and cities.  A white “cool roof” reflects the sun’s heat back to the sky, thus limiting the heat generated on the roof of, and inside, the building. It is a simple and effective climate and cost-savings solution that has already been proven around the world. In countries with a warm climate, such as Southern Europe or North Africa, it is common to see traditionally white buildings. This centuries-old practice is gaining renewed interest to become more energy-efficient and to limit the urban heat island effect. 

Since 2010, New York City has repainted 10 million square metres of building roofs in white. (11) As a consequence, the use of air conditioners has been reduced by 40%.  

From the roofs of supermarkets to those of warehouses and public buildings such as schools and hospitals, initiatives are multiplying (12). In 2015, the Quimper E. Leclerc supermarket covered its 6,097m2 roof with a special white paint. In three years, energy consumption has fallen by more than 45%, from 1,250 to 750 Kva. 175 tons of CO2 are saved per year, as well as €20,000 in electricity savings and €5,000 in maintenance savings, for a low cost (less than €20/m²), providing a high return (13).

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) states that “painting roofs white would save 1Gt/year of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to 250 million vehicles”, and that it is one of the quickest and cheapest solutions to adapt and mitigate climate change. 

Read more about this success story here.

  • Compendium of good practices for a greener humanitarian response

    European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations | June 2021

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Sources

(1) NHS, Delivering a Net Zero National Health Service, 2020. Read here.

(2) NHS, Greener NHS Campaign to Tackle Climate Health Emergency. Read here.

(3) Tennison, Imogen et al. Health care’s response to climate change: a carbon footprint assessment of the NHS in England, 2021. Read here.

(4) NHS, Delivering a Net Zero National Health Service, 2020. Read here.

(5) SBRI Healthcare Awards £1 Million To Pioneering Innovations To Support The Delivery Of A Net Zero NHS, 2022. Read here.

(6) NHS, Delivering a Net Zero National Health Service, 2020. Read here.

(7) Flight decision tree. See here.

(8) Comparative map of air and train travel times and carbon emissions. Read here.

(9) ETH Zurich Business Expenses Policy. Read here.

(10) routeRANK travel decision tool. Read here.

(11) NYC CoolRoofs. Read here.

(12) Cool Roof France accomplished projects. Read here.

(13) Cool Roof France Case Study on E. Leclerc de Quimper. Read here.

Cover photo © Eyoel Kahssay/Unsplash.