Practice manager Karen Creffield shares how prioritising more sustainable choices – both large and small – resulted in a substantial drop in costs
How did your practice start its journey towards being more sustainable?
I joined our 30,000-patient practice five years ago with the intention of driving a more sustainable practice.
Within the first year of signing up to the RCGP Green Impact toolkit we saved £10k in office costs as a result of making more sustainable choices within the practice.
Making these initial savings really helped to get engagement from the wider team. In any organisation, there will be some people who are very behind the green agenda, and others who need a bit more convincing. But it’s these wider hooks that help engage those who are more hesitant.
We’ve since implemented many changes within the practice and how it runs, partnered with the local council on various initiatives, including a period equality scheme, and set up our own wellbeing garden for staff. We are now in the process of applying for B Corp accreditation, which is certification for businesses that meet certain standards linked with sustainability and ethical working. Achieving this would give us recognition of the sustainability targets we’re working towards and the work we’ve already done.
What kind of measures did you take to save that money?
Before we enrolled on the Green Impact Toolkit the practice was still sending a lot of paper letters. We made significant savings when switched to using a text messaging system to engage with patients as part of a real commitment to reducing paper use. That saved us paper, printing and postage costs.
We invested time making sure we had patients’ mobile numbers correct on our records, so we could stop sending recall letters out. That was a big task since we discovered there were a lot of people we didn’t hold a mobile number for.
We stopped using many of our printers, and instead got photocopiers that staff members could use at a central point. We set everything to greyscale and stopped printing in colour, which also saved money. Obviously, we could print if we needed to, but it was no longer the default.
We also switched the type of paper we used, which increased our unit costs slightly because we bought better quality recycled paper. Overall, however our spend was reduced because we were using less.
We also started implementing other basic changes like increasing our recycling. There was a misconception that it would be more expensive to recycle, but actually recycling bags were equal in price to typical black waste bags that go in landfill. Over 50% of our overall waste now avoids landfill and we are working hard to improve this further.
Some of the smaller changes we have made include switching to refillable washing up liquid since we are fortunate to have a local refill shop; making sure people switched off their computers at the end of the day and reminding people how big an impact simple housekeeping tasks such as switching off lights when not needed can have.
We switched to LED lighting in some areas of the building, which uses less electricity, and changed energy provider to negotiate a more sustainable option – which ended up as a favourable contract as well.
In terms of food and drink we have a implemented a policy to ensure we only use fair trade tea and coffee, and for meetings or lunches we provide plant based locally sourced food whenever possible.
We now subscribe to a local share shop which means we can borrow cups, crockery and cutlery if we’re holding events as this helps us to cater for larger events. This is also much more sustainable than buying.
Did you predict that making these switches would result in cost savings?
In the first year of my being at the practice, my main aim was to prove that we could increase recycling and reduce waste and that it would be cost neutral. But in the end, we found that we made significant savings just by paying greater attention to all our activity, habits and purchases.
We’re a large practice, so savings might be less for a smaller practice, of course.
However, running a practice in a sustainable way is not just about cost margins. It’s about having a balance – and it’s a fine line. There are some things that are going to cost slightly more – like recycled paper or choosing to buy Fairtrade tea and coffee – but they’re worth the investment and it’s important to recognise that sometimes.
What’s the biggest challenge around sustainability that your practice faces?
A major part of the work involved in applying to be a B Corp is around the ethical side of the business, not just the sustainability side. For example looking at our supply chain and diversity and inclusion. Procurement is one of the areas we are currently working hard to address.
We’re working hard to try and audit our suppliers, to work with people who meet ethical and green criteria and find more options to source locally if we can. We’re also encouraging all of our suppliers to sign up to our codes of conduct and requirements, so we can gain more insight into the progress they are making with sustainability.
Ultimately BCorp is an ongoing process of improvement and we are really up for the challenge of seeing what else we can do to improve.
For practices that want to be more sustainable, where’s the best place to start?
For me, it’s about encouraging, not imposing. People are going to have different starting points, so it’s about working on engaging your staff and accepting where the practice is at and what first steps you can take. It is also about seeing that health and the green impact agenda are also inextricably linked. The RCGP Green Impact toolkit was a great starting point for us and a really helpful road map for improvement. I’d really encourage practices to sign up if they haven’t already.
Something we’ve found very helpful is establishing links with our local community. Two years ago we were awarded National Lottery Climate Action funding which involved partnering with our local town council and a social enterprise group called Edventure. The project focuses on achieving net zero for Frome.
We’re lucky in that our local area is quite sustainability conscious and we have lots of active community groups. We also have a share shop and a refill shop. But if you don’t have those resources in your area, then talking with your local community could help establish wider demand for them, or help you find other sustainability conscious organisations to work with.
If there’s one message I could give to practices, it would be don’t try and do it alone. Get as many partners as you can to work collaboratively.
Karen Creffield is practice and PCN manager at Frome Medical Practice in Somerset