‘Win-wins’: Tips to help people improve health, save carbon and save money at the same time

By Health Professionals for Health Professionals 

Below are five simple actions that everyone can take to improve health and take action against climate change, compiled by Ruchi, one of our members.  As a health professional, you can use these at several levels – to take individual action, to advise patients, or at a population level to engage with partners who can influence wider health determinants, such as local authorities.

There are also ideas about action that you can take in an article by another Climate and Health Council member, Jo Nurse - find these at http://www.climateandhealth.org/ten_practical_actions

‘Win-wins’: Tips to help people improve health, save carbon and save money at the same time


1.  Keep warm, keep cool, keep well.

Insulation keeps warmth indoors in winter and heat out in summer so reducing the risk of cold and heat related illness and death18,19.  Health professionals could prevent the emission of 100 000 tonnes of CO2 by advocating successfully for insulation in just 10 households[i].Better insulation also saves money. If only 1% of the four million most energy vulnerable energy customers in the UK improve their home insulation, they would save £12million using the cheapest energy supplier[ii].


2.  Have one ‘meat free’ day a week.

A high meat intake is associated with an increased risk of some cancers, ischaemic heart disease and diabetes24,25. In contrast, diets that are low in meat consumption are associated with longer life expectancy[iii]. Meat production contributes to climate change through methane production, deforestation, and associated transportation25.  If everyone in the UK stopped eating meat for a day a week, the CO2 saved would equal taking 5 million cars off the road[iv].


3.  Walk or cycle at least once a day.

Walking more than 1.5 miles per day reduces risk of Myocardial Infarction by 50% in older men[v].  If everyone in Britain made one less car journey every week it would reduce car travel by at least ten per cent, which would mean an annual saving of almost 7 million tonnes of CO2[vi]. This would save the money that would have been spent on petrol too!


4.  If you have to drive, be a safe driver.

If drivers did not exceed the 70mph speed limit on motorways 300 deaths and serious injuries would be prevented per annum.  Nearly 1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from excess speed would be avoided each year. Introducing speed limits of 20mph in built up areas as part of the “20’s plenty” campaign can reduce child pedestrian accidents by 70%[vii]. A lower speed limit also makes it easier to walk and cycle, reaping the benefits of active travel and reducing carbon emission from cars.


5.  Create safe, green spaces.

Contact with natural environments can improve physical32 and mental health33.  Health professionals can ‘prescribe’ activities to improve health  that are sustainable and enhance our resilience e.g. gardening, allotments, green gyms, environmental volunteering, NHS Forest[viii] – creating urban green spaces helps protect us from heatwaves and flooding.


Saving CO2 means saving lives too!

[i]Griffiths J, Hill A, Spiby J, Stott R.  Ten practical steps for doctors to fight climate change.  BMJ 2008; 336: 1507

[ii]Department of Energy and Climate Change. Consumer Energy Summit. Avaline on-line at http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/consumer_summi/consumer_summi.aspx

(accessed 23 January 2012).

[iii]Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, Gensini G, Casini A Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. BMJ 2008;337:a1344

[iv]Pachauri. R.K .Global Warning - The impact of meat production and consumption on climate change. London sept 8th 2008.  Available online at: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/news/factory_farming/lecture_calls_for_dietary_change.aspx. (accessed 15th July 2009)

[vi]Sustrans ‘Change your world’ campaign 29th June to 4th July 2009.  Available online at http://www.thebiggreenidea.org/news/article/sustrans-change-your-world-campaign/(accessed 15 July 2009)

[vii]20’s Plenty for Us. Why? Available on-line at http://www.20splentyforus.org.uk/rationale_for_20_mph.htm(accessed 23 January 2012)

[vii]NHS Forest.  The campaign for greener health care.  Available on-line at http://www.greenerhealthcare.org/nhs-forest(accessed 5th August 2009)