Foreword by HRA Chief Executive Matt Westmore
The Health Research Authority has shown leadership in many aspects of ensuring that health and social care research is fit for our future. Through the individual action of our people we have also made some significant inroads into reducing our environmental impact. Now we must respond to the global climate emergency through both leadership and action.
With this strategy we declare a climate emergency and our ambition, including setting out our initial plans in line with government targets, to become a carbon net zero organisation by 2050.
This is of fundamental importance to HRA delivering its social mission. We cannot help researchers do research people can trust, we can not faithfully say we are protecting and promoting the interests of participants (as set out in the Care Act 2014) if we don’t meet our statutory, public body, social and moral responsibilities to address climate change.
The HRA’s overall strategy for the next three years is to make progress on research being done with and for everyone, and that the UK is the most efficient place in the world to do research. These goals are just not possible without a strong foundation in sustainability.
This environmental sustainability strategy sets out the immediate environmentally sustainable changes we will make internally and will explore how we can encourage changes externally. It will future-proof the organisation and ensure we are ready for any other environmental sustainability issues we need to consider and prepare for in order to continue to protect the health of the nation.
First and foremost this is about what we do within the HRA. But what the HRA does has a wider impact. As the authority, we can drive change internally and encourage it externally.
This work is important because as a public body, as a community focussed on improving peoples’ lives, and as individuals who are driven by acting ethically, we must reduce the negative impact we have on our environment through climate, our planet and our health.
The purpose of this strategy is to incorporate environmental sustainability as part of our normal working practice and culture within 2022/23.
The Health Research Authority (HRA) is an arm's length body of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Our vision is for high-quality health and social care research that improves people's health and wellbeing. To achieve this we:
- make sure that research is ethically reviewed and approved
- promote transparency in research
- oversee a range of committees and services, such as NHS Research Ethics Committees and
- provide independent recommendations on the processing of identifiable patient information where it is not always practical to obtain consent, for research and non-research projects.
We employ nearly 300 staff, based across five offices in England, with 33 per cent of staff contracted to work from home [Data at 31/12/2021 92 out of total headcount 277]. Prior to the COVID pandemic in 2019, 18 per cent worked from home. [Data taken at 30/09/2021 (47 out of 264) prior to notification to staff on our flexible working policy and applications to become a home-based worker] We operate a flexible working policy, enabling office-based staff to work up to three days from home. The five offices located across England; London, Manchester, Bristol, Nottingham and Newcastle are leased office spaces.
In addition to our employees, we have a large network of around 1,000 active volunteers who include research ethics committee (REC) members, confidentially advisory group (CAG) members, and a public involvement network (PIN), and a smaller network of over 200 technical assurance reviewers. These groups together are part of our HRA community.
It is widely recognised that climate change poses a major threat to our health and wellbeing as well as our planet. The environment is changing, that change is accelerating, and this has direct and immediate consequences for our patients, the public and the NHS (NHS Green England).
The Climate Change Act 2008 states that the UK must at least halve its carbon emissions in 2050 compared to carbon emissions from 1990. It represents the first global legally binding climate change mitigation target set by a country. The UK is also a signatory to the international Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, which aims to reduce global warming by 2°C. The Glasgow Climate Pact of 2021 reinforced the international Climate Agreement, with areas of agreement with particular relevance to the HRA including mitigating the effects of climate change by reducing emissions and collaborating with others to deliver even greater action.
We are committed to playing our part in achieving net zero emissions through making sustainability part of normal business decision making and processes. Whilst we have already made progress to reduce our impact on the planet through initiatives such as providing a cycle to work scheme for our staff and only providing printed papers for our REC members for accessibility needs, we are very aware that there is much more that we can do. The longer we delay action to reduce our emissions and impact on the planet, the longer we enable climate change to accelerate even more, negatively affecting the health of the nation even more. Investing in a sustainability strategy places sustainable decision making as core business or “business as usual” and will ensure we use our resources effectively and reduce waste whilst also protecting the health of our staff, HRA community, research participants and the wider general public.
This document also includes our initial commitments and plans for the financial year 2022/23. During this year, we will consolidate our progress to date to reduce our impact on the planet, focusing on areas where we as an organisation can have a direct impact on increasing our sustainability and reducing our emissions. We will consult with experts in sustainability to undertake a review of the research journey and work with similar bodies to share knowledge and learning. During this year, we aim to set out a further three-year plan for the financial years 2023/24 to 2025/26 to work and consult with our partners on how we can reduce the impact of the wider research lifecycle on the planet. This is in line with both our core remit to protect and promote the interests of patients, participants and the general public, and our strategic objective to make progress on research being done with and for everyone.
What have we achieved so far?
Monitoring our emissions
We have already started to monitor our carbon emissions and put practices in place to reduce our impact on the planet.
The HRA currently monitors its activity to reduce its impact on the environment from our estates and business through reporting to DHSC in the following areas:
- Electricity usage (KwH) on green versus standard tariffs from our estate
- Gas usage (KwH) from our estate
- Car travel (Km) for HRA business
- Public transport usage, including taxis (Km) for HRA business
- Air travel (Km) – class of travel and long versus short-haul
- Waste recycled, sent to landfill, incinerated and IT (tonnes) from our estate
- Water usage (m3) from our estate
- Paper usage (reams) for HRA business
- Domestic flights (count)
Reporting on the carbon emissions from our estates, including waste, is difficult because we lease space in buildings which are managed and occupied by other organisations. Our individual emissions and usage cannot be separated from those of the buildings as a whole. Nevertheless, we report our usage based on actuals (where possible) and reasonable estimates based on costs where not. The reporting does not account for the emissions of homebased staff, which accounts for 33% of our workforce. Further to this, more staff worked from home with during the pandemic in line with government guidance.
Our travel usage is based on journeys booked through our online booking system and staff expense claims.
Paper usage is calculated based on the number of reams we purchase, plus the number of sheets claimed on expenses by our staff and volunteers.
This reporting is made in line with the Greening Government Commitments for 2021-2025.
Changes we've made
In addition to reporting to DHSC, we have already started making some headway in reducing our wider environmental impact. The HRA staff-led Green Team has assisted the organisation in promoting and facilitating the following changes:
- holding all REC meetings virtually instead of face to face from April 2021, meaning that our business and REC member travel is reduced
- recycling and reuse of electronic equipment
- promoting sustainable travel options, for example through the our policy to use public transport (buses and trains) for business travel, the cycle to work and car lease schemes (the latter of which includes many hybrid and electric vehicle options), and ensuring that facilities are available at HRA offices wherever possible to support this
- reducing or removing where possible single use plastics from catering provided by HRA
- recycling and reuse of office furniture
- reducing paper usage and postage, in particular by giving all REC members access to the online HARP Member Portal. The HRA now aims to be a paperless organisation, except where needed to facilitate accessibility requirements
- supporting others to reduce their environmental impact by promoting the MHRA’s guidance on remote trial monitoring and remotely seeking informed consent
- engaging and motivating staff to play their part at work and home, for example by promoting the use of reusable travel cups and highlighting opportunities to use green utility suppliers
- reducing waste by highlighting available recycling facilities at each of our offices, introducing some additional recycling facilities where staff have been supportive of this locally
- ensuring that we are using our resources effectively and are supporting a healthier nation through our actions to reduce carbon emissions
- beginning to embed sustainability throughout HRA decisions, activities, initiatives and programmes (for example our 2021 London office move to 2 Redman Place; the building has achieved ISO 14001 Certification - Environmental Management and a rating of outstanding by BREAMM).
Sustainability falls within the Finance, Governance and Commercial directorate remit and is overseen by the Estate Strategy Group with lead support from the Deputy Chief Executive. The Green Team includes enthusiastic volunteer staff representatives from across the organisation, with a passion for building sustainability into our everyday lives. All activity for Green Team is done around volunteers’ day jobs.
Developing our strategy
This strategy sets out the HRA’s initial goals and ambitions for the next year, building to our long-term vision for 2050. In developing this strategy, we recognise to reach our full potential we need expert guidance and knowledge. As such part of our strategy over 2022/2023 will be to source additional sustainability expertise capabilities (sourcing strategy yet to be determined) to assist in the delivery of the initial goals for 2022/2023. Expertise will provide knowledge and skills to work with our partners towards the longer-term ambitious aims that go beyond reducing the direct impact of our organisation and consider how we can influence the delivery of research we govern. Our role is to protect and promote research to public and patients - this cannot be done in isolation from the impact research has on the planet.
With the global pandemic from COVID-19, we have developed and embedded new ways of working which are more environmentally sustainable; more staff now work from home, reducing emissions from commuting, and nearly all the meetings we organise or host are held virtually, including research ethic committee (REC) and confidentiality advisory group (CAG) meetings. We recognise that there will always be the need to hold some meetings in person, either for business needs or for the mental health and well-being of our staff, though we must temper this with considerations of the carbon cost of meeting and the well-being of staff no longer wishing to travel, particularly as we are a national organisation and our staff and stakeholders can be required to travel quite far as a result of this. During the pandemic our contracts for our office printers expired, and given that we had already committed to be a paperless organisation wherever possible, combined with the climate emergency and ongoing cost to the planet of maintaining this facility, we have reduced our printer estate from 13 printers to a single printer. This strategy sets out our ongoing commitment to include environmental sustainability and the impact on carbon emissions at the heart of decision-making at the HRA.
To garner the support of our staff and HRA community, we sought their views on our vision for 2022/23 during the development of this strategy; see Appendix A for the results. This has influenced the vision and goals you see now, including how we plan to achieve this. We will continue to consult and engage with our employees and HRA community to inform our long-term vision to 2050. It is vital to understand how important sustainability is to our workforce, the areas they would like to see addressed and how. This ensures that any changes we do make are more likely to be successful. We will continue to make it clear we must act now and play our part.
Whilst this strategy is not the finished article, there are a number of early steps we have identified to work towards reducing our impact in 2022/23. This will lay the foundations for the next steps to 2050.
Research that the HRA issues guidance on, health care projects it reviews and provides approval on is carried out mainly in the NHS. The NHS, as the largest employer in the UK, is responsible for four per cent of Britain’s carbon emissions [Delivering a Net Zero NHS report]. The need to reduce carbon emission and acknowledgement of climate change on health is reflected in the NHS Long Term plan. Alongside this, in 2020 the Greener NHS Campaign was launched to mobilise staff and set the NHS’s commitment to become carbon net zero. Research is an integral part of clinical care, and as part of our strategic conversations with our stakeholders and partners, we will consider over the next year what environmentally sustainable research looks like and how we can work together to support research to be delivered in a sustainable way. This in turn will help to facilitate sustainable practices in standard clinical care, supporting the NHS in reaching its commitment to become carbon net zero.
What do we want to achieve?
Our vision for 2022/23
To embed environmentally sustainable practices into our daily business, making environmental sustainability the norm.
To achieve the ambitious goals for 2022/23 and to support the development of the next stage of strategy development, we will procure the services of an expert in sustainability practices. We recognise that delivering this ambitious vision and plan will require additional support and resource; securing dedicated expertise will ensure that we:
- identify ongoing improvements and changes to sustainability best practice
- update our strategy and plan to accommodate any changes as a result of the latter two points
- keep on track with our plan
- progress within relevant national and international standards and requirements
An options appraisal of how this expertise can be secured and what activities this will support will be presented to HRA’s Estates Strategy Group in Quarter 1 2021/2023. The sustainability expert will as a minimum be a member of the Estates Strategy Group to ensure oversight and continued alignment with other strategies.
Embed environmentally sustainable practices within the HRA, including meeting DHSC’s strategic sustainability requirements
|What will we do?||How will we do it?|
|Support our estates in reducing energy consumption and waste production, only allowing business travel by car for permissible reasons (for example, use of an electric vehicle and no public transport available), and only using paper when necessary in line with DHSC’s reporting requirements.||
Continue to report to DHSC and monitor our ongoing reduction in usage of the following:
a. Electricity usage (KwH) on green versus standard tariffs from our estate
b. Gas usage (KwH) from our estate
c. Car travel (Km) for HRA business
d. Public transport usage, including taxis (Km) for HRA business
e. Air travel (Km) – class of travel and long versus short-haul
f. Waste recycled, sent to landfill, incinerated and IT (tonnes) from our estate
g. Water usage (m3) from our estate
h. Paper usage (reams) for HRA business
i. Domestic flights (count)
|To embed environmentally sustainable practices and processes as a normal part of working at the HRA. As part of this we will put in place mechanisms to enable us to meet DHSC’s sustainability vision (currently in development), for example procuring in a sustainable manner, though where we can make further environmentally sustainable changes we will.||
Require all strategic HRA decisions, such as the locations and size of our estate, future ways of working, policy and guidance to include sustainability considerations, including management of climate risks , as a core component when reaching those decisions from spring 2022. We will produce an Environmental Impact Assessment to support our staff in considering sustainability as part of their decision-making and implementing any future changes.
Working within the Government and DHSC frameworks for climate change, implement processes to enable us to meet regulatory and wider DHSC strategic requirements, such as collaborating with our landlords to aim to deliver zero waste to landfill on our estate by 2025 or retro-fitting our existing buildings to reduce their carbon emissions. We will ensure that we are kept apprised of developments in governmental and DHSC strategies to enable us to meet these requirements.
|Be a leader in environmental sustainability by assessing where and how we can increase our sustainability from 2023/24 in addition to DHSC’s requirements, for example through assessing the impact of staff working at home or commuting.||
To understand the wider impact of homebased and office working, we will measure our current carbon footprint from HRA business by year end 2022 in the following areas:
a. Electricity usage (KwH) of staff when working at home
b. Gas usage (KwH) of staff when working at home
c. Car travel (Km) and fuel source (petrol, diesel, electric or hybrid) of staff commuting
d. Public transport usage (Km) and type of staff commuting
e. Active travel and type (Km) of staff commuting
By the end of financial year 2022/23, identify any further gaps in our current reporting and DHSC strategic requirements to assess where we can implement additional measures to become more sustainable
Understand our future business travel needs so we can reduce and maintain business travel
|What will we do?||How will we do it?|
|Significantly reduce emissions from business travel (road, rail and air) by remote meeting attendance being the default position. Face to face would need to meet specified justifications (for example essential business needs, well-being of staff, personal circumstance and impact on the environment) in line with our Future Ways of Working programme. The ambition will be to maintain business travel at no more than an agreed proportion of pre-pandemic levels (baseline to be taken from 2017/18, excludes commuting travel for office-based staff). An additional comparative baseline will be taken from 2021/22 during the pandemic when there was very little business travel. This includes all travel by our HRA community. The Green team will seek input on what would be considered to be an appropriate justification to travel or not to inform future HRA policy and strategic direction in this area; ‘x%’ will be derived from this work during 2022/23.||
Influence through attendance at Future Ways of Working meetings to ensure sustainable working is a central component developing guidelines. There is a need to balance business needs and well-being of staff in decisions for meeting face to face or virtually, taking into account factors including health, personal circumstances and the environmental cost of travel.
Understand the travel activities of our HRA community prior to the pandemic (March 2020) in order to be able to better understand and communicate the environmental benefits of meeting virtually rather than face to face.
Refresh our guidance for staff on what type of transport should be used for business travel in which situations, taking into consideration environmental issues and wider concerns such as health and wellbeing, empowering staff to decide which type of transport would be most appropriate for them.
|Limit all domestic flights to travel to and from Northern Ireland only.||By the end of 2022, identify when and for what purposes staff are travelling by air domestically so that we can assess the future impact and any support needed for staff to transition to not flying within Great Britain.|
|Encourage staff who are commuting to move away from single occupancy journeys in fossil fuel powered cars towards more sustainable journeys (via active/public transport, or electric vehicles).||Ensuring that adequate facilities and infrastructure are in place to support staff transitioning from single occupancy travel in fossil fuel-powered cars to active transport such as cycle to work, with facilities such as cycle storage and showers.|
Embrace a circular economy by 2025
|What will we do?||How will we do it?|
|Remove single use plastics from procurement and replace with reusable or recyclable alternatives.||Undertake a review of all single use plastics in use across the organisation, considering whether these should be removed entirely or replaced with suitable alternatives.|
|Embed paperless ways of working across the organisation and transform our existing paper-based processes, with a ‘digital by default’ principle to limit printing to only be for accessibility requirements to support those who need to print to be able to perform their role effectively, or in limited situations referred to in new HRA-wide guidance where it is agreed that printing would outweigh sustainability concerns. This will drive down paper and stationery waste.||Embed the policy decision in relation to the HRA being a paperless organisation, including producing guidance for staff on when using paper would be supported, for example for accessibility requirements.|
|Ensure all equipment owned by the HRA is repaired where possible, re-used for alternative purposes, or recycled at the end of its life.||Communicate more effectively and support everyone in the organisation to recycle, re-use and repair our equipment.|
|Aim to include five different types of recycling collection in each of our offices as standard, increasing this wherever possible in line with local facilities by influencing landlords. As a minimum this should include paper and cardboard, plastics, and aluminium can recycling.||
Collaborate with our landlords to introduce different types of recycling into our regional offices which are beneficial to us and other tenants and users of the buildings we occupy.
Ensure adequate and clear recycling guidelines in offices, to ensure all items which are recyclable at each office location are recycled.
Develop a sustainable workforce culture
|What will we do?||How will we do it?|
|Engage and enable staff and the HRA community to place sustainable decision-making at the heart of everything we do, including facilitating best practice.||
Communicate on a regular basis with our staff and HRA community to keep them up to date with our sustainability activities and progress. As part of this, we will be transparent and clear with staff and our wider community about how sustainability has influenced the HRA’s activities and decisions.
Communicate with staff and the HRA community about why being environmentally sustainable is important, linking to regional, national, and global issues as relevant.
Undertake a survey with staff and the HRA community to understand what matters to them, what motivates them, and what would support them to become more environmentally sustainable when engaging in HRA business by the end of 2022. The strategy and subsequent plans for any future years may be modified in accordance with the results of this and any future surveys.
Promote sustainable activities which staff can use their two volunteering days for, such as litter picking, beach cleans and tree planting.
Develop a training module for staff and the HRA community on the importance of environmental sustainability and how the HRA is acting to reduce its own impact on the planet.
Encourage staff to reduce their water consumption by raising awareness of the importance of this.
Provide tools for staff and the HRA community to undertake a personal carbon assessment.
Promote an awareness of ways in which staff can be more sustainable and / or reduce their carbon emissions, for example through an area on Microsoft Teams in which staff can share tips with each other.
In engaging staff and the HRA community to support us and promoting the HRA in becoming a more sustainable organisation, be aware of and accommodate individual differences, for example mental health needs. We are particularly aware that climate anxiety could be increased by the way the HRA promotes some changes included throughout this strategy. We will ensure that we are sensitive in our approach to the needs of different groups by engaging with our staff led equality, diversity and inclusion groups.
|Increase awareness of how homeworkers can reduce their carbon emissions which are a direct result of home working.||Promote an awareness of ways in which home workers can reduce their carbon emissions, including by purchasing electricity from renewable sources.|
Review of the impact of research pathway on the planet by 2023
|What will we do?||How will we do it?|
|Work with our partner organisations to map the resources used along the research pathway.||
Engage and collaborate with our stakeholders to understand barriers and enablers to reducing carbon emissions and becoming more sustainable.
Undertake a mapping exercise of potential areas of impact.
|Engage with our stakeholders to set out an ambitious plan to develop innovative processes, guidance and policies to deliver sustainable health care research.||Assess where and how HRA can best influence sustainability across health care research both as an organisation in its own right and by working with other organisations, to inform any future work from 2023 onwards.|
Corporate sustainability and changes associated with this fall within the Finance, Governance and Commercial directorate remit and is overseen by the Estate Strategy Board with lead support from the Deputy Chief Executive. The Green Team will continue to be represented on the Estates Strategy Board. The Green Team will be involved in developing any changes and messaging aimed at staff, volunteers and reviewers as people, for example around attitudes, culture, and personal life. The performance and progress against the objectives in the strategy will be reported via the Estates Strategy Board to the Executive Committee.
HRA Equality Analysis and Privacy Impact Assessment
|Assessment||Screening question||Answer||Action required|
|Equality||Has an Initial Equality Impact Assessment been carried out?||Yes||If no, please do so now. Do not publish the policy until the EIA is ready to be published alongside it.|
|Privacy||With due regard to the Data Protection Act, does this strategy involve the use of Personal Information?||Yes||If yes, please complete an Initial Privacy Impact Assessment. If no, no further action is needed.|
Appendix A: Results from the staff, volunteer and reviewer survey February 2022
The HRA, Sustainability and Me survey was shared with the HRA’s 299 staff through our weekly organisational newsletter, HRA News, on 14 February 2022. It was shared the following day with all 1,189 members of the HRA community. Respondents were given until 25 February 2022 to respond, with a reminder sent to HRA staff on 21 February.
1. Which of the following best describes your role?
Responses were received from 14 per cent of HRA staff and 16 per cent of the HRA community. While this is lower than we hoped for, results can be taken as indicative of the general feeling of staff and the HRA community.
|HRA community member, such as REC, CAG, PIN and Technical Assurance Reviewers||195|
2 .How important is sustainability to you personally?
A vast majority of respondents (93%) felt that sustainability is important to them.
|Not important at all||2|
3 .How important is it to you that the HRA has an active sustainability strategy?
While a smaller majority of 88 per cent thought it was important that the HRA has an active sustainability strategy, this still highlights the support we will have among our staff and HRA community.
|Not at all important||6|
4. How intentionally sustainable do you think the HRA is currently?
Despite support from our stakeholders in implementing a sustainability strategy and the achievements we have already highlighted above, it is clear that we have not communicated well with staff or the HRA community on our progress to date or how decisions have been made. Forty per cent of respondents did not know how intentionally sustainable the organisation is, with another 34 per cent of respondents thinking we are only quite sustainable. This highlights the importance of communicating and engaging more with our direct stakeholders in future.
|Not at all||0|
|I don't know||96|
5. The HRA sustainability goals are those which we believe have the greatest relevance, impact and feasibility for the HRA. Which do you think we should focus on first / most? Please rank these goals according to how important you think they are to ensuring sustainability is at the heart of our decision-making and organisational culture.
We asked respondents which areas of the strategy they thought we should focus on. There was a clear preference to embedding practices now, though concern was raised that this could be perceived as a tick-box exercise. This is not our intention, and we will need to ensure through careful engagement, communication and review that this is not how it is perceived or implemented in practice.
Interestingly, most respondents thought that reviewing the impact of the research pathway on the planet was the least important area of focus. Respondents indicated that this could be because it was felt the HRA should be able to prove to others that being more environmentally sustainable can be done by making changes itself first, or due to a concern in creating more bureaucracy for researchers without there being a positive environmental impact, or a concern that it would distract us from our 'core' work.
|Percentage of responses per choice||First||Second||Third||Fourth||Fifth|
|Embrace a circular economy by 2025 (reduce, re-use, repair, recycle)||18%||22%||24%||21%||15%|
|Embed practices to ensure we meet the Department of Health and Social Care's strategic sustainability requirements (reducing energy and waste)||30%||19%||20%||22%||10%|
|Review the impact of the research pathway on the planet by 2023 (making the health research process sustainable and how HRA can contribute)||13%||16%||15%||19%||36%|
|Develop a sustainable workforce culture (everyone habitually considers sustainability in their work)||25%||24%||16%||19%||15%|
|Understand our future business travel needs so we can reduce and maintain business travel by 2025||14%||18%||25%||19%||24%|
6. Would you be interested in having a more active role in supporting green initiatives at the HRA?
There was some interest from respondents in being more involved in HRA sustainability activities.
7 .We are exploring ways to engage more people. How would you like to be involved?
Not all respondents could say how they thought they would like to be involved. There was a clear indication that more communication would be welcomed, which complements the findings from question 4 that respondents did not know how intentionally sustainable the HRA is. By communicating more about our actions, this may lead to more of our workforce being able to see how they could engage more with the environmental strategy.
|I'd like to receive regular updates about sustainability at the HRA||80|
|I'd like to play an active Green Team role in my team/office/REC||25|
|(Staff only) I'd like to join the Green Team||2|
|In another way not described here||1|
|I'm not sure||39|
8. Please share any questions, concerns or suggestions you may have relating to the HRA Sustainability Strategy. We will ensure that these are collated and responded to, either in writing or in an open virtual session.
One final question in the survey asked respondents to provide any questions, concerns or suggestions about the Sustainability Strategy. Concerns and comments have been addressed in this document where possible and relevant. Others will be addressed in further communications to staff and the HRA community. There were also some fantastic, specific ideas of how we and the wider research community can challenge ourselves to be more sustainable which we have captured separately for exploration over the next year.