Why it matters in health and care, and what the RCN is doing about it
Sustainability is a broad term that captures social, economic and environmental activities needed to ensure a prosperous, safe and equitable world for future generations across the globe.
The UN Sustainable development goals (SDG’s) also known as the Global Goals, represent 17 areas of action to address global inequalities and tackle climate change.
The 17 SDG's are integrated - they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Health and care services provided by NHS and independent sectors are a major contributor to climate change contributing to approximately 5% of global emissions. This equates to roughly 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent or the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 514 coal-fired power plants.
Many of the ways we deliver health and care create harmful waste and bi-products, which increase the burden on disease and health care. This includes how we heat and supply energy to hospitals, manufacture and use consumables and equipment and manage the waste we create. Other factors the use of vehicles by staff, patients, procurement agencies and ambulances all contribute to pollution.
Conversely, measures to tackle Climate Change, such reducing petrol vehicle use, tackling air pollution and moving to more plant based diets, can have bring positive health effects, both at an individual and a societal level. Essentially, action to tackle climate change will bring positive health benefits and visa versa.
The RCN is committed to supporting members and the wider nursing community to deliver care in a way that is environmentally sustainable, improves health outcomes, and helps to reduce costs.
We believe that nurses have a key role to play in addressing these challenges, and in supporting the development of environmentally friendly and sustainable care.
As the largest part of the health and care workforce, nurses are at the forefront of providing care to communities and people affected by Climate Change. As a profession grounded in science, and one trusted by the public, nurses also well placed to speak out on this issue and talk to those they care for about the beneficial relationships between Climate Change and health.
Our RCN work on Sustainability is evolving. RCN members are clear that climate change requires urgent action. RCN work on sustainability, including climate change, is broad and we are working hard to integrate this in all our work.
RCN position on climate change
RCN members passed an emergency resolution on climate change at our 2019 Congress . A position paper was subsequently published and can be viewed here.
RCN Sustainability NetworkThis virtual network exists to share information and to offer opportunities for members to shape and contribute to RCN activity on sustainability including climate change. To join the network please email
RCN Sustainability education programme
We are currently developing an online education programme to support members education on sustainability. This is due to launch in 2022. See our professional services pages for more information.
Online Nursing Sustainably Study Guide
The RCN’s online guide includes details of key resources and books on promoting sustainable nursing practice within health and care settings. There are also links to searches for materials available within the RCN's extensive book and journal collections.
RCN Glove Awareness Week (GAW)
This annual focus for awareness raising and activities to support the appropriate use of gloves addresses the three key themes of sustainability, prevention of infection and skin health. In 2022 GAW will run from 2-6th May.
The RCN’s ‘Small Changes, Big Differences’ work is designed to support nurses in making smarter and more sustainable procurement choices, which are good for their services, their patients, and the environment.
UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC)
The RCN is a founder member of the Alliance, which brings together leading healthcare professional organisations. It advocates for actions at governmental and system level to tackle climate change and protect and promote public health.
It was formed in 2016 to coordinate action, provide leadership and amplify the voices of the UK’s healthcare professionals on all things relating to Climate Change and sustainability.
You can find out more on the Alliance’s website.
Health Care Without Harm
The RCN is a member of ‘Health Care Without Harm’, an international coalition of health care organisations and professionals.
The coalition shares a vision of a health care sector that does no harm and is committed to preventing disease and promoting the health of people and the environment.
You can find out more on the Health Care Without Harm website.