After the success of the Grace Cares panel discussion of Breaking the Mould for Joined-up Sustainable Health and Social Care across this year’s Health plus Care Show, the panelists thought it would be beneficial to pull together an article. This is a summary of the outcomes of the session with their top tips for delivering sustainable care from all four of their perspectives covering homecare, care home, care change consultancy and the Institute of Health and Social Care Management.
Whether we like it or not, the government has set a UK commitment to sustainability that has to be met by 2050, change has to start now or we will fail to meet our targets. We are all going to experience at first voluntary but ultimately compulsory change as practices that need to be put in place now to hit the 2050 commitment. Change is coming.
A YouGov survey, conducted in August 2021, found that 87%102 of NHS staff supported the NHS Net Zero ambition. It may be reasonable to assume that care workers would give a similar response to questions asked about their own sector but have not yet been asked.
We all agree that with rising costs and environmental changes, we need to be more waste and carbon aware. Both health and social care and people working at all levels ultimately need to adopt a more sustainable way of delivering services.
We need to be considering the impact of care delivery on the environment, society, and the economy.
The demand for social care is growing rapidly, driven by demographic changes such as an aging population and an increase in chronic health conditions. This demand is placing significant pressure on care services, which are already struggling to meet the needs of individuals due to budget cuts and staffing shortages.
Additionally, the social care sector is a significant contributor to carbon emissions and other forms of environmental impact. The sector uses large amounts of energy, equipment, and resources to provide care, and this can lead to waste and pollution. Health and social care activities protect and restore health and save lives. But what about the waste and by-products we generate?
How can we achieve sustainable delivery in social care?
Achieving sustainable delivery in social care requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the environmental, social, and economic impacts of care delivery. Some of the key strategies for achieving sustainable delivery in social care include:
- One of the biggest impacts you can have on the climate crisis is based on who you bank with and which pension provider you use for your team’s pensions. Switching banks and pension providers to greener banks/funds (both as individuals and as organisations) will mean that your money isn’t being used to fund fossil fuels. Link for green alternatives / banks genuinely engaged in sustainability instead of greenwashing can be found here: https://makemymoneymatter.co.uk/act-now/
- If you have solar panels or are considering getting solar panels, speak to your accountants because, depending on different variables, it’s possible they can be included on your balance sheet as appreciating assets (ie assets which increase in value over time) rather than depreciating assets. Your accountant will be able to give you more information about whether this is applicable to your situation or not, and they’ll know how to update your accounting estimates on your financial statements accordingly.
- Adopting sustainable purchasing practices. You can reduce your environmental impact by adopting sustainable purchasing practices such as energy-efficient buildings, renewable energy sources, and waste reduction and recycling programs. An example of this is what not-for-profit Grace Care’s are striving to achieve by thoroughly decontaminating and executing high levels of quality and risk checks to give care equipment a new lease of life and avoid needless landfill. Are all the suppliers you buy from hitting sustainability targets or carbon neutral or literate? Ask them all for a copy of their sustainability plans and credentials.
Lifestyles and residents
- Meat-free Mondays where you include a vegetarian (or vegan) dish from a different country or culture in the world each week.
Make each Monday a themed day which matches the culture/community/country that your vegetarian dish is from each week. Have themed activities which align with that theme. Eg, residents and teams dress up in the traditional outfits of that culture (could even turn it into a fashion show), they could cook/bake items from that culture (eg make vegetarian pizzas, samosas, dumplings etc), they watch films from/about that culture, listen to music from that country/culture, learn how to write their name in a new language, learn how to say fun phrases in a new language etc
- Look for sustainable innovations for activities you’d already be doing. Eg if someone likes bird watching, you can buy a smart bird feeder which takes photos of every bird that feeds from the feeder. Those photos can then be viewed on iPads/tablets, either as individuals or in group settings, and mean your residents can still enjoy bird watching from the comfort of inside/from their bed, ie still enjoy bird watching even if the weather is poor outside or even as their physical mobility declines.
- Prioritising preventative care: Investing in preventative care can help you to reduce the demand for more costly and intensive care interventions, helping to reduce the overall environmental, social, and economic impact of social care.
- Engaging service users: Service users can play a key role in promoting sustainable social care delivery by providing feedback and suggestions for improvements, as well as by adopting sustainable behaviours in their own lives.
- Supporting a skilled workforce: Providing adequate training and support for care workers can help to attract and retain skilled staff, improving the quality of care while also benefiting the wider economy.
- Offer incentives for care workers who adopt or put forward more sustainable processes such as walking or cycling to work, or suggest a positive change to delivery, procuring or approach.
Data and technology
- What are the key KPIs that matter the most to you and your residents, teams and families? Pick 3-5 and focus on them. You can’t do everything all at the same time, no one has the time for that so pick the areas which are either most important to you and/or the ones which you feel will have the greatest impact.
Publicise the chosen KPIs and provide regular (monthly/quarterly/annual) updates to all stakeholders so you hold yourself/your organisation publicly accountable.
- Figure out a way to measure the areas which are most important to you / will have the biggest impact. You need to have quantifiable measurements. Whether it’s number of trees planted, number of wheelchairs saved from landfill, kilograms of food waste recycled instead of going to landfill etc, think about what you can consistently measure and keep track of.
- Delete your old or unnecessary emails. Unsubscribe from subscriptions you never read or open. Delete old emails that aren’t needed. Digitisation is great, but the more you digitise, the more energy is needed to store and maintain all those data records. So delete anything that’s not needed
- Same as with any other new project or strategy you’re trying to implement, whether it’s improving digitisation, a new dementia strategy or improving oral hygiene, have sustainability champions. Choose the people in your teams who are most passionate about sustainability and support them to lead a culture change.
- Make your most important sustainability KPIs and goals visible to your teams, eg add them to existing online dashboards, discuss them in daily meetings, post them on staff notice boards etc. If they don’t know them, they won’t know what they need to work on or towards.
- Make it fun! Create competitions, get everyone involved, and have rewards for when they meet certain milestones or goals. Whether it’s one home versus another, or one team vs another, a bit of healthy competition is good for everyone and will drive them to meet the necessary goals faster. Eg you can compete on which home is best at wast
- Collaborating with other sectors. You can collaborate with other sectors such as health, housing, and transport to develop integrated approaches that address wider social and environmental issues.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Researchers from McKinsey & Company found that companies which pursued sustainability with the genuine aim of creating additional value for society (not just attempts at greenwashing) generated higher profits for their organisation in both the medium term (3-5 years) and in the long term (5-10 years) than those which did not pursue sustainability. So not only are you making the planet better, supporting your staff and service users but you’ll also make higher profits.
Achieving sustainable delivery in social care is essential. By adopting sustainable practices, supporting a skilled workforce, prioritising preventative care, engaging service users, and collaborating with other sectors, social care providers can work towards a more sustainable, cost effective, higher revenue generating and resilient future.
Be the change you want to see.
- Amrit Dhaliwal - Walfinch Home Care
- Lucy Buxton - LJB Coach Consultancy
- Jade Maloney - Institute of Health and Social Care Management
- Jasmeet Rai - RCH Care Homes
- Hannah Montgomery - Grace Cares