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London hospital reduces carbon footprint

21st Oct 2022 - 04:00
A ‘pioneering’ initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of hospital menus is proving the viability of this approach as part of a strategy to achieve Net Zero in the NHS, says Mandy Chambers, general manager for healthcare at apetito.

When apetito conceived the principle of bringing decarbonised menus to St George’s Foundation Hospital in Tooting, the potential reduction in carbon footprint was anticipated to be between 8% and 11%.

And now, nearly a year since the ground-breaking programme was introduced, we’re in a position to see just how the figures indicate that savings have met expectation.

Here at apetito, together with onsite caterer Mitie, we’re justifiably proud to be part of the team that has enabled decarbonised menus at St George’s Hospital.

This initiative evolved through the shared passion and commitment for sustainability between our two businesses and the team at St Georges – alongside a determination to reduce carbon footprint to support the NHS Greener Pathways programme.

And the success of these decarbonised menus marks a significant stake in the ground for this approach to hospital catering as the NHS looks to meet its Net Zero commitments.

Ten months since reduced carbon menus were mobilised, the figures have shown the carbon reductions to be on target at just over 8%.  Our next step is work closely with our partners to increase the carbon reductions even further.

And there has been wide acknowledgement internally at St Georges of the work that has been undertaken to achieve these results, seen as a beacon for other trusts to follow suit. 

The reduced carbon menus have been achieved through prioritising ingredients with a lower carbon footprint, such as white meats, fish, and vegan options.

It’s not about demonising any one ingredient or red meats, instead we are making small changes to menu cycles that can have a significant, yet surprising, impact on the carbon footprint whilst at the same time ensuring that patient choice is not compromised.

The challenge we faced at the outset was about ensuring patient preferences and choices were not impacted, but through clever menu selection we were able to ensure that patients could still enjoy all their favourite meals.

And notably, this was achieved without compromise to quality, cost, or nutrition. It’s all about balance, and a key lesson for us is that small changes can have a large impact.

For Mitie – like ourselves - reducing its impact on the planet is a priority.  So, it’s fantastic to be seeing the positive results of the carbon-cutting menu.

By working together in partnership and continuing to refine the menu, we hope that we can reduce the environmental impact of our catering services at St George’s even further.

What’s on the menu?

The reduced carbon footprint menu that the team has mobilised at St Georges Hospital operates on a two-week menu cycle.

The number of red meat options has been reduced from 22 to 20, which meant that the patient has seen very little change in choice because the menu still offers 46 meat dishes, as well as seven fish dishes, 21 vegetarian meals, and ten vegan ones.Furthermore, as well as reducing carbon emissions, the new menu meets the British Dietetic Association Standards.

The concept of reduced carbon menus could be an important factor in how caterers support the NHS Greener Plan as it moves towards Net Zero by the end of the next decade.

And, whilst vegetarianism may be on the rise, so is ‘flexitarianism’ – where consumers reduce their meat consumption and opt for a more balanced approach, which is reflected in the reduced carbon menus that patients are now being offered.

The increased focus on plant-based recipes clearly has an important role to play in reducing carbon on hospital menus, but we have also been mindful of the fact that meeting the preferences of patients is key.

A recent patient satisfaction report questioned whether committed meat eaters would choose to go plant-based during their stay in hospital, or whether we ought to encourage transitions to poultry and pork options. These alternatives have significantly lower carbon footprints than red meat and we thought such shifts might be easier to achieve.

The initial results support this theory while enabling us to deliver meaningful carbon savings.

We know that the team at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is delighted with the results so far and has supported our initiative by playing its part and undertaking a number of actions to reduce its carbon emissions in other areas of operation.

As a result, in the first six months it has reduced carbon by over 22,000kgCO2e.

And we were delighted that St George’s was featured at COP26 as part of the NHS ‘Care for the future: delivering the world’s first Net Zero Health Service’ exhibition.

We hope our reduced carbon menus will provide a beacon for other hospitals to consider and follow suit.

Written by
Edward Waddell