Green Environmental Ambulance Network
The GrEAN (Green Environmental Ambulance Network) is a network of all of the ambulance services across the UK who are working to reduce the collective carbon footprint of the ambulance services.
The network involves staff from Estates, IT, Procurement, Operations, Driver training and Fleet as well as paramedics, ensuring that everyone within the services are working together to reduce the emissions that we all emit at work.
In March 2020 I took up the new UNISON branch officer role of Environment Officer.
I have always had a keen interest in the environment, and in 2002 completed a Masters degree in Earth and Environment Resource Management whilst working for the LAS as a paramedic.
I have followed a vegetarian and latterly vegan lifestyle since 1975 and feel passionately about, to name a few, global hunger, deforestation, climate change, air pollution with its adverse health consequences, animal rights, habitat loss, wildlife trade and resultant flora and fauna extinctions.
When I discovered that UNISON were introducing the new Environmental Officer Role I jumped at the chance and was very grateful to be allowed to fulfil this role.
As this is a new role, I have spent some time considering my scope of practice and how to represent staff and raise concerns whilst helping to contribute to reducing our carbon footprint. I have some ideas set out below and welcome members input.
At the time of being elected we were all in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic (with the reported source; a wet market in Wuhan) and the havoc it was wreaking in the UK, across Europe and spreading and taking hold across the globe.
Environmental worries paled in significance whilst here in the UK our NHS was struggling to cope with the first peak. Lockdown was imposed, food supplies and job security became foremost concerns in people’s minds whilst we in the NHS were grateful for the job security but were paying for it with a heavy workload, anxiety, stress, high sickness levels and the crippling fear of catching it ourselves or spreading it to our loved ones.
Covid-19 has had, and is continuing to have mixed impacts on the environment; Global lockdown and travel restrictions combined with a massive output reduction in manufacturing and industry has resulted in: less traffic on the roads, waterways and in the skies resulting in an improvement in air quality, a reduction in noise pollution, reduction in overall pollution and an improvement in water quality and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions resulting in ecological restoration with images appearing on social media of wildlife reclaiming empty beaches.
Conversely, we saw an increase in single use plastics and medical waste also with images of wildlife this time with the strings from surgical masks around their necks.
Where does this leave us working for one of the biggest and busiest ambulance services in the UK and part of the world’s largest single health system in the world, the NHS?
The NHS has committed to be carbon neutral by 2040 and has a long-term plan to cut mileage and air pollution from ambulances, patient transport and staff journeys by 2024 together with ensuring 9 out of 10 vehicles are low emission within a decade.
To do this support is required from all 1.3 million employees working in the NHS.
Dave Prentis our outgoing UNISON general secretary said:
“Involving staff is crucial if the NHS is to help the UK meet its emissions targets in good time. They know more than anyone how the health service ticks and so are best placed to make practical green suggestions to get the NHS to where it needs to be.”
It is encouraging that we are working for an employer (NHS) committed to reducing its environmental impact but there are lots of ways that we as individuals can contribute to this and improve our working environment.
The LAS must do all it can to reduce its carbon footprint moving forward with any new builds, greening existing buildings, reducing unnecessary travel by staff (Zoom and Teams I believe will be a more sustainable way forward in a future post COVID-19), encouraging car sharing, assisting with cycle schemes and electric cars and charging facilities to name a few.
The waste generated at LAS sites, I recently discovered is taken to a material recovery facility that sorts and processes recyclable waste with the remainder being converted to energy from waste with zero waste going to landfill. This is one area that I know concerns a lot of staff.
As individuals we can do so much and working together sharing ideas, we can do so much more to make our working environment greener and more environmentally friendly.
I am in the process of setting up a network of green champions across the LAS to share ideas about greening workplaces, sharing ideas and raising concerns about local environmental issues.
If you are interested in being part of this network please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively register your interest with your local UNISON rep.