A simple guide to carbon positive practice

04 April 2023 | Opinion
Share
Joe Jennings
Member: Oxfordshire
Joe Jennings and the Community Acupuncture Team are on a journey to become sustainable across all of their community clinics. Here Joe shares what they’ve learnt so far – together with some of his infographics showing potential areas for reducing carbon emissions.

For most of my life I’ve worked with and around community groups focused on sustainability: In my early 20s I set up an eco-community in South Oxfordshire. In all these projects I have always advocated for strong environmental policies, this necessarily begins with taking account of our impact.

The standard tool for carbon emission accounting is a greenhouse gas report and they are mandatory for all publicly listed companies. You can easily get a flavour of how it works with an online search of different companies to see what they are doing.

Spoiler, most of the larger companies are just offsetting their damage – necessary and legitimate in some cases – but most are greenwashing as a way to prevent any actually wholesale change of business models. Fossil fuel extraction is the biggest example of this.

 

For the last four years I’ve been doing greenhouse gas reports for the Community Acupuncture Team. We have been accounting for and reducing our carbon footprint and making improvements wherever we easily can. We have also created an online tool – one that you can use to make accounting for your own carbon emissions as easy as possible.

We’ve had a steep learning curve. It has been essential to account for all of our emissions – by area – so we know where we can make changes and how much of a difference those changes make. But as a result we’ve been able to legitimately and proudly call ourselves a carbon positive practice.

Greenhouse gas reports follow a pretty standard template and are relatively easy to do, at least for scope 1/direct emissions – eg travel and heating – and scope 2/indirect emissions – eg electricity, rented room heating, website data.

Scope 3 emissions – products used to run your practice – are a bit more challenging to calculate. I’ve had to estimate from other ‘conversion factors’ that the government publishes annually.

Anyway, boring details aside, we’ve made some pretty great strides and are reducing our emissions, absolutely in some areas and on an emissions per patient scale for others.

For us, one area in particular has gone up quite a lot over the years: travel. But we are a growing company taking on more practitioners over a wider area. We do what we can here, but it is tricky.

The infographics you see here show areas where reductions can be achieved, in order of how much of a difference they could make.

Banking is the exception. Although it wouldn’t affect our emissions directly, green banking has an outsized effect by switching funding – from those who lend to fossil fuel projects towards those who only lend to renewables and positive impact projects.

For the areas we cannot reduce any further, like single-use needles, we need to work together with our suppliers to get them to reduce the carbon intensity of their products. HerbPrime are taking the biggest strides towards this. Using their products will make other suppliers want to follow in their footsteps – and also enable them to make more improvements.

To make the carbon emission accounting process as easy as possible for other practitioners I’ve made a carbon calculator. Feel free to give it a go. And do get in touch with any questions or if you want a hand with it.

I would love for more people to begin measuring and finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint – especially if we are able to work towards a 50-75 per cent reduction across the profession!

Given the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – and to be fair it was pretty obvious before – it is essential that we act now. After all, our work is focused on the health and wellbeing of our patients and communities.

I would argue that not doing all in our power to reduce our carbon emissions is a dereliction of duty. It also rubbishes the physicians’ axiom ‘first do no harm’. I also implore the British Acupuncture Council to get behind our efforts, host and promote the tool with their much larger platform, and push suppliers to do more.

Please also get in touch if you’d like to ask about the assumptions and calculations I’ve made in making this tool. I would say it is accurate for scopes 1 and 2. Scope 3 gets tricky as we don’t have any carbon intensity reporting on any of the products we as a community use. I have had to make assumptions using other calculations, like steel production for needles – but it will still give a solid ballpark figure for measuring any changes we make.

For anyone wanting to know more about the Community Acupuncture Team’s greenhouse journey so far, please see our full greenhouse reports.

Joe Jennings runs the Community Acupuncture Team CIC – a collective of five practitioners across five different community clinics mainly in Oxfordshire. He works in the NHS and has set up YourClinic.care to help create a dataset for acupuncture outcomes for the benefit of the profession. He also runs a 12-week free internship programme for newly graduated practitioners to help with confidence around the medical and business side of our work.