HRA environmental sustainability strategy – making environmental sustainability the norm

Last updated on 5 Jul 2024

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 2024/25.

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:

We employ nearly 260 staff, based across five offices in England, with two thirds of our staff contracted to work from home. 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).

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 (Greener NHS).

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 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 information for our staff and HRA community 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 public.

This strategy includes our initial commitments and plans for the financial year 2024/25. 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 undertake a review of the research journey and work with similar bodies to share knowledge and learning. During this year, we aim 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 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:

  1. Car travel (Km) for HRA business
  2. Public transport usage, including taxis (Km) for HRA business
  3. Air travel (Km) – class of travel and long versus short-haul
  4. Paper usage (reams) for HRA business
  5. Domestic flights (count)
  6. Single use plastics

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. The reporting does not account for the emissions of homebased staff, which accounts for two thirds of our workforce.

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 2020, meaning that our business and REC member travel is reduced
  • recycling and reuse of electronic equipment
  • promoting sustainable travel options, for example through our policies to encourage the use of 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, 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 Resource directorate remit and is overseen by the Estate Strategy Group with lead support from the Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Resources. 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.

Examples of Good Practice

In April 2023 the HRA moved its offices in Manchester from Barlow House to Piccadilly Place. When the HRA moved offices 18 workstations and associated equipment were transferred. This left a total of 30 workstations.

The remaining 30 workstations were distributed as follows:

  • Six workstations and associated equipment were transferred to the Nottingham office.
  • The remaining computer equipment was distributed as needed across the HRA workforce with the outstanding equipment being sent to the HRA’s London and Newcastle offices.
  • The remaining 24 desks and chairs were sent to the Border Force in Hull.

The Manchester Office move in April 2023 was successfully completed with all workstations and equipment from Barlow House being utilised across the HRA estate or within other government departments. No equipment was sent to landfill and the HRA met its Environmental Sustainability Goal of ensuring all equipment owned by the HRA is repaired where possible, re-used for alternative purposes, or recycled at the end of its life.

Developing our strategy

This strategy sets out the HRA’s goals and ambitions, building to our long-term vision for 2050. The HRA will continue to follow best practice as to how to improve our environmental sustainability working with our partners in central government and the NHS.

So that the Green Team and HRA can understand how the organisation feels about environmental sustainability there were a number of questions on the subject in the 2024 staff survey. The findings of this survey will be used to give direction for the strategy throughout 2024-25.

Whilst this strategy is not the finished article, there are several steps we have identified to work towards reducing our impact in 2024/25. This will continue to 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.

Our vision for 2024-25

To embed environmentally sustainable practices into our daily business, making environmental sustainability the norm.



There were nine environmental sustainability goals agreed for 2023-24; the HRA has gone a long way in achieving its 2023/24 goals, but more work is needed particularly in the areas of:

  • Consideration of the impact on the organisation of pivoting on RSP and review of Environmental Sustainability Goals.
  • Use of domestic flights.
  • Completion of an environmental sustainability audit for all existing HRA policies and procedures.

The nine goals were:

  • 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)
  • Ensure all equipment owned by the HRA is repaired where possible, re-used for alternative purposes, or recycled at the end of its life
  • Engage with our stakeholders to set out an ambitious plan to develop innovative processes, guidance, and policies to deliver sustainable health care research
  • Continue to reduce and maintain our business travel at 60% of pre-pandemic rates and encourage most business travel to be completed using public transport
  • Continue to limit domestic flights to essential travel where other travel methods are not suitable
  • Develop a Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) procedure that requires HRA policy development, our suppliers, and procurement systems to consider the five Government Environmental Principles:
    • The integration principle states that policymakers should look for opportunities to embed environmental protection in other fields of policy that have impacts on the environment
    • The prevention principle means that government policy should aim to prevent environmental harm
    • The rectification at source principle means that any environmental damage should, as a priority, be addressed at its origin to avoid the need to remedy its effects later
    • The polluter pays principle makes clear that those who cause environmental damage should be responsible for mitigation or compensation
    • The precautionary principle states that where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, a lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation
  • Support estates to reduce energy used in and maintain the current types of recycling available in our five office locations
  • Continue to work with all HRA teams to reduce further our use of paper and single use plastics
  • Support the HRA put in place strategies to support methods of hybrid working which reduces the amount of CO2 produced


The goals for 2024-25 build on the 2023-24 Environmental Sustainability work completed by the HRA. There has been a subtle change in the goals into more long-term objectives predominantly due to the success of the previous goals in delivering many of the initial targets. For example the HRA has transitioned away from being predominantly office based to being a homebased majority employer, this has meant that the first goal of 2023-24 is not as relevant as it used to be.

The 2024-25 goals are:

  • Continue to engage with our stakeholders to understand ongoing activity regarding environmentally sustainable research and how HRA could support within our resourcing.
  • Maintain and review CO2 emissions from transport 2022 baseline by continuing to develop travel policies that provide guidance on sustainable travel options.
  • Complete an environmental sustainability audit of HRA policies and procedures and provide recommendations on how to reduce the impact on the environment.
  • Determine our Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, particularly Scope 2 (indirect emissions from electricity) and Scope 3 (emissions not produced by the HRA such as business travel) and explore if these can be measured.
  • Work with our suppliers to reduce carbon usage and waste in our supply chain by agreeing an Environmental Sustainability Procurement Statement.
  • Support all colleagues at the HRA to consider environmental sustainability as part of their business activity.
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