NHS Supply Chain and the route to net zero

15th September 2023


NHS Supply Chain, is an instrumental part of the NHS family, ensuring partners across the NHS have everything they need to put patients first.

We manage the sourcing, delivery and supply of healthcare products, services and food for NHS trusts and healthcare organisations across England and Wales- every year, we deliver more than 8 million orders, across 17,000 locations.

Our dedicated teams work with Integrated Care Systems, trusts, and IT and Logistics partners to ensure our supply chain is cost-efficient, resilient, and responsive to frontline needs – helping the NHS provide safe, quality patient care.

Our NHS and our Sustainability Impact

As a healthcare system the NHS was the first to declare the Climate crisis a health crisis, and the set out clear targets and ambitions as a result.

  • For the emissions we control directly (the NHS Carbon Footprint), we will reach net zero by 2040, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2028 to 2032
  • For the emissions we can influence (our NHS Carbon Footprint Plus), we will reach net zero by 2045, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2036 to 2039.

How this impacts the approach we are taking

For us, whose role it is to procure for the NHS, this means we have a significant part to play in delivery of these ambitions. We need to look at how we can influence and work with both our suppliers and customers to change their behaviours to deliver net zero. To do that, we need a culture in our organisation, where everyone understands the duty, they personally must deliver sustainability within their everyday role, and how it is core to their work – it’s not what a sustainability team on the side does.

The strategic perspective

In order to support this culture, we are building our strategy around a framework.

  • People
    • How we empower our colleagues to deliver our sustainability ambitions, ensuring it is part of the key competencies.
  • Process
    • How we align into our operating model, ensuring sustainability is embedded within.
  • Impact
    • Understanding our sustainability impacts and the workstreams identified to deliver the outcomes we want to achieve.
  • Stakeholders
    • How we will engage with Stakeholders, what we aim to achieve with them.
  • Metrics
    • How we measure our ambitions, successes, and lessons learned – with interim milestones.

What this means for our Supply Chain

First let’s talk definitions. Terms like Net Zero and Carbon Neutral are often bandied around in the main stream media interchangeably. However, the two things are not the same, and the NHS use of the term Net Zero is deliberate

Carbon Neutral: Typically refers to Scope 1 and 2 emissions and is focussed on carbon offsetting

Net zero: Encompasses Scope 1,2 and 3, and all green house gas emissions. (The seven greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PCFs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).)

For our supply chain, this gives a very clear message about our direction. To build on this and to give our suppliers a clearer idea of what the path to net zero will look like for the NHS, the NHS Net Zero Supplier roadmap was approved by the NHS England Board in September 2021. This sets out clear milestones for anyone wanting to supply the NHS of what we want, by when.

When it comes to NHS Supply Chain, and the suppliers within our frameworks, we are also trying to be clear with them about our ambition, but also what we expect of them now.

I call these our five asks, these align with the NHS Net Zero Supplier Roadmap, and make it clear to our suppliers what we expect as a minimum:

  1. Carbon Reduction Plan
    1. Do you have one? Is it up to date? If you are not already required to have one as part of the £5million plus per annum threshold, are you ready for April 2024 when all procurements will be in scope of net zero commitments?
  2. Social Value
    1. What can you do over the course of the contract which relates to the product or service you are offering? Do you understand the Impact the product has, and how you will measure the improvement over the course of the contract?
  3. Evergreen Sustainable Supplier Assessment
    1. The Evergreen Assessment is now live, have you completed it?
  4. Net Zero Supplier Roadmap
    1. Are you familiar with the roadmap, do you understand it, and are you preparing for upcoming milestones, and if so, does this support the social value you can bring?
  5. Modern Slavery
    1. Have you completed the MSAT assessment, and do you have a plan in place to pick up on the recommendations it makes?


At NHS Supply Chain we are also looking across our portfolio and identifying the areas that need work, from our Logistics contract to each of the frameworks we provide, to how we present and give our customers information and data to be able to make informed choices. Collaboration is key, as we all need each other to reach our Net Zero ambitions.

Heidi Barnard, PIEMA, is head of sustainability at NHS Supply Chain

Image credit: Shutterstock

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