Sustainable development, climate change and green issues

RCGP and the Climate Emergency

The RCGP acknowledges the climate crisis and the catastrophic effect on human health of not acting decisively and urgently. The College accepts its duty to provide leadership, and urgently escalate its action at local, regional, and national level to decarbonise and promote environmental sustainability (RCGP council motion, September 2019).

The RCGP is a signature to the Sao Paulo Declaration that gives every person, in every place, from every calling a role to play in safeguarding the health of the planet and people for future generations.

The Role of GPs

GPs Doctors and nurses are the most trusted professionals to tell the truth. By framing action on the climate and ecological crisis as an opportunity to improve patient and public health, we can promote public motivation to act. Through our example and advocacy, we can promote healthy, sustainable living and reduce carbon emissions.

The Carbon footprint of clinical practice

Most of general practice’s carbon footprint is from its clinical work. Prescribing accounts for over 60% of general practice’s carbon footprint. Metered dose inhalers (that can use propellants 3,000 times more potent as greenhouses gases than carbon dioxide) account for a large part of the prescribing footprint. Good clinical practice can be both high quality and low carbon. This short BMJ article suggests six actions that GPs can take towards greener and better primary care. Examples include: 

  • Preventing ill-health (e.g. reducing health inequalities, sustainable diets, active travel, social prescribing, community health creation and action on fuel poverty),
  • Reducing harm and waste (e.g. reducing overdiagnosis, avoiding harmful polypharmacy, and using collaborative care plans to prevent unplanned admissions,)
  • Empowering patients and increasing their self-management (e.g. sharing decision making, person-centred care, and group consultations)
  • Prescribing lower carbon medicines (e.g. using dry powder (DPI) rather than metered dose inhalers (MDI) where appropriate)
  • Providing optimal care whilst avoiding unnecessary patient and staff travel

The Carbon footprint of the non-clinical (or organisational) business

Most of the non-clinical carbon footprint comes from patient and staff travel, followed by energy use and procurement of services. There is an easy and quick to use free carbon calculator for general practices at Examples of actions that can be taken include:

  • Reducing unnecessary patient and staff travel
  • Promoting active travel (walking, cycling)
  • Reducing energy use
  • Switching to renewable energy sources
  • Choosing sustainable goods and services

RCGP Climate Networks

The Climate Emergency Advisory Group (CEAG) is a RCGP Special Interest Group that aims to support the RCGP, at both national and faculty level,

  • to enable the general practice community to take meaningful actions on the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE)
  • to integrate sustainability into all parts of the system including curriculum, policy, guidelines, research and practice.

An increasing number of the RCGP faculties have appointed Climate and Sustainability Leads to support environmentally friendly practice. The CEAG is an on-line community (on a Google discussion group) that is open to non-members to join. The online group is a network for support, information, coordination of efforts, ideas, feedback, and connecting with the RCGP faculty leads and college leadership. If you want to contribute to these groups, please contact your local faculty or Terry Kemple (via the Green Impact for Health website) who is one of the RCGP’s representatives for Sustainability, Climate Change and Green Issues.

The Greener Practice Network

Greener Practice is the national network for those working in general practice to raise awareness of the health benefits of climate action and to support practical action in primary care. There are an increasing number of associated local Greener Practice groups that connect people to act locally.  The website acts as a one-stop shop for general practices wishing to become greener, with links to information, resources, a library of webinars and practical tools. Greener Practice has a range of WhatsApp special interest groups (clinical care, respiratory, education, Green Impact for Health toolkit  & Quality Improvement, NHS organisations, organisational carbon) which allow for information sharing. Email if you would like to join a special interest group, link to a local group or set up your own local group.

The Green Impact for Health (GIFH) Toolkit

The free online toolkit lists over 100 actions that can improve the environmental sustainability and quality of any general practice as well as saving money. Many of the strategies that mitigate carbon dioxide production also benefit health (e.g. more active travel lessens air pollution). Developed by the RCGP using the NUS/SOS Green Impact web platform, the toolkit answers the question ‘What can I do in my practice?’ It gives the reason for the suggested actions and tips about how to make the change. It is being used by over 900 General Practices across the country.

You can access and test drive the toolkit on the website using the login with the password Testtoolkit1!

How to become Carbon Literate?

This is a quick introduction in the format of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). There is an optional test you can use to check your knowledge before or after reading the FAQs and links to the learn more.

Check your personal carbon footprint

You can use:

Check your practice’s carbon footprint

The new free carbon calculator for general practices is at

Other more general tools include:

Other groups and organisations

UK Health Alliance for Climate Change (UKHACC). The RCGP is a founding member of the UKHACC. It brings together doctors, nurses and other health professionals to advocate for responses to climate change that protect and promote public health. The Alliance coordinates action, provides leadership and helps amplify the voices of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals across the UK.

Greener NHS is the successor to the Sustainable Development Unit. It is working to achieve the NHS target of becoming a net zero carbon health service by 2040. See Delivering a Net Zero Health Service.

Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) is a charity based in Oxford working on sustainable healthcare in research and practice. It provides strategic input and consultancy to national and local programmes. There is a network for Primary Care with lots of resources as well as a forum for discussion.

World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA) has a Working Party on the Environment that fosters the role of family doctors in protecting the health of their patients and communities from the impacts of environmental hazards and environmental degradation, and to promote healthy and sustainable societies at the local and global level. Family Doctors from every region of the world are engaging in planetary health within their local and global communities. The Working Party always welcomes new members.

Planetary Health Alliance is a consortium of over 240 dedicated universities, NGOs, government entities, research institutes, and other partners around the world committed to advancing planetary health.

Other climate change information and resources for GPs

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