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Small steps can help limit damage of our footprints

Belfast Health and Social Care Trust came into being in April 2007 following the merging of six trusts - four acute (hospitals) and two community.

An organisation of this size and nature has a large carbon footprint with a subsequent effect on climate change.

The budget in 2009/10 for energy and water was approximately £15m. The trust has a corporate social responsibility to provide a better environment for the people of Belfast and addressing our environmental impact and reducing emissions will have a positive effect on health inequalities.

We think about 15% of our budget can be saved if the attitude of each staff member is changed.

The benefits of changing the culture to 'think before turning on' will not only have immediate direct effects within the trust but will have a knock-on effect by instigating the same thought processes in the 20,000-odd homes throughout Belfast and beyond.

The trust's installation of a utilities auditing system is the foundation on which energy conservation and cultural change can be based. The system is the first complete automatic intelligent energy and water meter reading system (AMR) on this scale in Northern Ireland. Data is collected via a radio network from each gas, electric and water meter within the trust every 30 minutes.

To encourage cultural change and pose the question to each member of staff - 'What can I do?' - is a tall order and needs communication at every level.

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AMR provides all the relevant information to everyone to allow them to see the consequences of their actions and this data is being communicated in several ways.

With such a large workforce, the challenge to create a culture of energy efficiency through awareness is immense. The trust has amended its fire and environmental awareness training for staff which not only provides important fire safety training, but also energy advice with handy practical tips which staff can apply at home as well as at work.

The Belfast Trust also has two operational borewells, providing a total of around 500,000 litres of water every day at Musgrave Park Hospital and Belfast City Hospital.

The existing installations have been important both in terms of the security of supply they provide and significant savings on the cost of water. An innovative system to make large boilers more efficient and deliver savings in carbon emissions and cost has also been installed at Musgrave Park Hospital, Muckamore Abbey Hospital and Belfast City.

We can recover the wasted heat energy and reuse it in projects; for example, pre-heating the boiler feed water at Musgrave Park Hospital and assisting with the heating demand at Muckamore.

We have been able to reduce the fuel consumed to each system and reduce carbon emissions and the trust's fuel bills by 10% at each site.

While the Belfast Trust actively progresses its plans to reduce carbon, it is still a small part of the total carbon emissions in Northern Ireland.

The public sector as a whole represents only 30% of the Northern Ireland workforce and its portion of the footprint is similar.

Public sector partnerships, including shared technologies and innovations in the field of carbon management, are needed not only within each public department, but across the sector as a whole.

The Belfast Trust is committed to playing a full role in the only realistic and achievable way forward for Northern Ireland to minimise climate change through carbon reduction.

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