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Easy ways to become a more sustainable GP practice

7 April 2023

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Being more environmentally friendly while saving costs for your practice doesn’t have to be complicated. Elaine Morley, sustainability project lead at Frome Medical Practice in Somerset describes simple steps to take

Sustainability is a word we increasingly come across in all aspects of life. The UN defined sustainable development as meeting ‘the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations’.

When looking to implement easy sustainability wins in primary care, a good place to start is these three areas: procurement, waste management and energy consumption. An added benefit is that addressing these will also help save practice costs.


Procurement is an area we have worked hard to address. There are several steps you can take that can make a big difference towards your sustainability goals.

1. Review your practice’s postage habits.

Costs are high for both franked mail and Royal Mail stamps. For, example first class stamps have just increased to £1.10 and second class is now 75p. Franked postage is slightly cheaper.  

Undertaking a postage review can help provide insight into where you can cut costs and create more sustainable solutions.

Start by recording postage habits by your various teams/team members over a minimum period of two weeks. Ask staff to complete a tally sheet, which should be placed near your posting area.

On the tally sheet record the following:

  • Date
  • Your department or name
  • Reason for post (e.g. recall, flu invite, appointment cancellation)
  • Recipient/s (e.g. patient/consultant etc.)
  • Number of items by postage type. So, L=letter, LL=large letter, SP=small parcel.

Once the review period has been completed, you can analyse your postage spend (this is best done by uploading the information from your tally sheet into a spreadsheet). You may be pleasantly surprised, or less so if the spend is higher than expected. It may be that one or two teams within the practice need to alter their postage use habits.

Now, you have an accurate picture of spend you can identify where savings can be made. Encourage staff to use alternative more cost-effective, sustainable options where appropriate. These could include using texting services or online signing services such as DocuSign or Accurx.

This simple exercise could save your practice money while reducing your carbon footprint.

2. Assess your practice’s printing habits to try and reduce costs.

If you can, aim to print less to reduce your carbon footprint, or better still, go paperless. In primary care this may not always be possible, but even small improvements can make a difference.

If you do need to print, ensure you’re optimising your printers. Set the default to double-sided printing in black and white.

Ask your all-in-one printer/photocopier machine supplier to remind you of the costs per page for black and white or colour printing – black and white will be significantly cheaper. Black and white is also better for the environment, less ink is used and fewer cartridges are produced.

The negative impact of cartridges on the environment can be further reduced by recycling and reusing when depleted. Ask your cartridge supplier or manufacturer about this, as they may collect cartridges for reuse or recycling as a free service, which will prevent them ending up in landfill.

Practices should also look to move away from individual user printers if these are in place, as it will also reduce costs and cartridge usage.  

3. Set a policy for ordering name badges

These can be an area of significant annual spend. Many of the badges currently in use are clinically suitable but not sustainable or cost effective.

If you are regularly ordering new badges, look to source ones made from recycled material or better still ones that can be recycled at end of use. Applying a minimum order policy (to stop placing orders for single badges) can create significant savings while also reducing your carbon footprint. Practices should always aim to keep a stock of blank spare badges to use as temporary badges, preventing the need to order new ones before minimum order figures are reached.

If your waste management provider can’t recycle your badges, ask the supplier if they can take them back and recycle them for you.

Waste management

Implementing appropriate waste management can have a significant positive impact on sustainability goals. Recycling in particular saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which helps to tackle climate change. 

Practices also have a legal responsibility to ensure that they produce, store, transport and dispose of business waste without harming the environment and to protect human health. This is called the waste duty of care.

So, what can you do to improve in this area?

1. First, assess your current waste management and identify your overall spend on general recycling, and clinical waste streams, if applicable.  

Check if you’re using all the waste storage bins provided by your waste management company. If you’re unsure about this, you can get a report from the company.

If you’re not using all the bins, then ask for them to be removed, otherwise there’s a chance you’re still paying to have them on site.

2. Remove individual desk bins for general waste and instead install central waste stations for general and recyclable waste

This will help encourage better segregation of waste.  It will also save cleaners’ time and reduce the amount of individual plastic bags with mixed waste going to landfill.

3. If you have a contractor that comes onsite to shred confidential paper, ask if they can take away your cardboard at the same time. It’s a commodity for them, so they often take it away free of charge.

Energy consumption

Many of us are focusing on this area more closely than ever due to rapidly rising energy costs and the impact of energy usage on our environment. Some quick tips to reduce energy consumption, include:

  • Ask staff to turn off all equipment when not in use (they shouldn’t be left on standby).
  • Turn lights off when rooms are not in use.
  • Move furniture away from radiators or other heating/ventilation sources to achieve maximum efficiency.
  • When windows are opened, turn radiators off.
  • Review pre-sets for heating, lighting and hot water and ensure timers are adjusted for weekend or seasonal use.
  • Use blinds to keep heat in overnight and keep the sun out during the day to reduce energy consumption when heating and cooling workspaces.
  • Monitor energy usage for gas and electricity to better understand your consumption and work out how to reduce it.
  • Switch to energy efficient LED lighting to achieve significant savings and reduction in carbon footprint.
  • Install an instant water eco boiler in kitchens that are used by large numbers of staff to save energy and time.
  • If dishwashers are used, ensure usage is optimised by using eco settings and only running the dishwasher when full. 

The RCGP’s Green Impact for Health toolkit has more tips to help identify areas where you can improve your sustainability; reduce your environmental impact; reduce your risks from climate change; and reduce practice expenses.

You can also see Frome Medical Practice’s website for other top tips and learn more about the sustainability work we are doing.

Elaine Morley is sustainability project lead at Frome Medical Practice, Somerset