What Bupa is doing to go green


Efforts by private doctors and hospitals to make our planet a healthier place to live are gathering pace. Here, Bupa’s James Sherwood follows his analysis last month on the impact of climate change on our health with a round-up of the insurer’s efforts to become a net zero emissions business.

While climate change is our reality, and it is going to change the way we provide care, we should not let it deter us from taking a more sustainable approach. 

We can all make healthy and environmentally friendly behaviour changes that last. At Bupa, we are on a journey to help make a better world. We are committed to doing all we can, environmentally and in our communities, to make a positive difference. 

Here are some examples of the things we are doing, which we hope will provide some inspiration.

Net zero business by 2040

As a healthcare company, we consider it vital to lead with action in reducing our environmental footprint in delivering healthcare, particularly given the now indisputable links between the environment and human health. That is why we have set a goal to become a net zero business by 2040 across all our operations. 

As a first step to achieving net zero emissions by 2040, Bupa has set science-based targets which are aligned to keep global warming to no more than 1.5°c. These targets will ensure we make transformational progress this decade.

Last year, we worked with the Association of British Insurers on an ambitious climate action roadmap for our industry. As part of this, we are committed to getting our UK-based insurance businesses to net zero for direct emissions by 2025 – and we’re not far off already. 

Steps we have taken so far to reduce our impact include:

All our UK operations run on renewable electricity and some on biogas. Our Leeds, London and award-winning Manchester office buildings are energy-efficient, with an ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating.

Food waste in Bupa care homes and at the Cromwell Hospital is recycled into green energy.

Over the past decade, we have invested £23m in eco-friendly technology including solar power, LED lighting and building energy-management systems.

Our priority is to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible. Until we get to net zero, we will offset any remaining emissions by investing in nature-based solutions. 

In the UK, we have supported the UN’s Climate Neutral Now initiative since 2019. Offsetting is done by supporting projects that reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. 

We do this by working with One Carbon World, a not-for-profit partner of the UN’s Climate Neutral Now initiative. As part of this, we are investing in reforestation projects in South America and renewable energy projects in India.

To keep up momentum, we will:

 Get to net zero in our direct operations by 2030 and across all areas, including our supply chain, by 2040 ;

 Work with our supply chains and partners to eliminate carbon emissions and reduce our overall footprint;

 Switch our company cars from petrol and diesel to electric and hybrid;

 Automate the way we use heat, light and power to improve our buildings’ energy efficiency.

Delivering through partnerships

We are working in partnership with Forum for the Future, Walgreens Boots Alliance and GSK Consumer Healthcare on how health companies can improve both people and planet health, this includes co-authoring the report ‘Driving co-benefits for climate and health’.

We have also joined the wider healthcare community signing the #HealthyClimate prescription letter, calling on governments and policy-makers to act on the current climate and health crisis, and contributed to the World Health Organization COP26 Special Report on Climate and Health.

Driving innovation

We are innovating so we can care for our customers in ways that are better for them and the planet, including:

Offering customers access to our Digital GP service so they have the option of a consultation by video call. This takes cars off the roads and cuts down on energy use in practices. Our customers rate it highly.

Continuing to add more and more no-travel options for healthcare, including our remote health assessments, physio services and our skin assessment service, where customers are sent specialist imaging equipment to take photos of any skin worries which are then assessed by consultants.

Our charity, the Bupa Found­ation, has provided funding for Asthma UK’s WhatsApp service for people experiencing long-Covid symptoms.

Last year, we launched our eco-disruptive global innovation challenge, an initiative which brings together three elements of Bupa’s new strategy: sustainability, agile culture and digital transformation.

It saw 126 Bupa employees across the world partnering with about 500 eco start-ups on six challenges:

 Reducing carbon emissions;

 Improving air quality through greener transport;

 Eliminating waste and reducing consumption;

 Increasing, restoring or protecting biodiversity;

 Making our cities healthier;

 Empowering people to improve their health and that of the planet.

The winner was Spanish start-up Circoolar which received the most votes from Bupa’s employees worldwide for its pilot focused on making ethical and sustainable uniforms for healthcare professionals by turning plastic bottles into fabric. 

Plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from production to refining and the way it is managed as a waste product. Each uniform prevents waste from 18 plastic bottles ending up in the ocean or landfill. 

Circoolar will receive a £200,000 investment from Bupa. 

Australian start-up AirSeed, an innovative environmental restoration company, and the UK’s Upcycled Medical, who make textiles from discarded plastics, were the runners-up and will also receive investment from Bupa.

Supporting mental health

Eco-anxiety is anxiety related to our relationship with the environment and the fear of climate change. 

Young people, particularly, are worried, depressed and angry about climate change and this is heightened by media coverage of rising temperatures, forest fires and melting ice caps. 

Through The Bupa Foundation, we are investing 1% of our profits into our local communities, including three programmes which have a positive impact on people’s mental health. 

We have partnered with Mind to provide funding for online well­being resources to support 11-25 year-olds with their mental health, including how to cope with the impact of the pandemic and climate change. This aims to reach 2.5m young people by the end of 2022.

Our free Wellbeing for Educators workshops for school staff has reached more than 3,000 young people and educators who used resources for the Bupa Found­ation’s Beyond Words programme, which encourages creative writing to support mental well-being.

Our employees’ Community Committees in Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, London and Staines, Middlesex, support local charities that help vulnerable people by providing grants, volunteering and fundraising for them. They also use volunteering days to support charities of their choice.

James Sherwood (right) is general manager, operations and healthcare management, Bupa