This report explores the dual nature of digital healthcare technologies in contributing to and mitigating healthcare's carbon footprint. The report is based on a placement facilitated by the Energy SHINES project.

Authors: Lucie Daniel-Watanabe, University of Cambridge; Ruth Moore and Ben Tongue, NHS England; and Sarah Royston, Anglia Ruskin University


Digital healthcare technologies (DHTs) have the potential to both reduce and increase the carbon footprint of healthcare systems. As healthcare rapidly digitises, leveraging technologies from electronic records to AI, it faces the challenge of balancing the environmental costs of digitalisation against the benefits of reduced emissions from traditional healthcare activities.

This policy brief explores the dual nature of DHTs in contributing to and mitigating healthcare’s carbon footprint. Focusing on England’s National Health Service (NHS), the study delves into how the adoption of digital technologies could either reduce or exacerbate the healthcare sector’s carbon footprint, raising critical questions for the NHS’s digital transformation efforts.

The analysis reveals that while DHTs offer avenues for reducing emissions—such as telehealth reducing the need for patient and clinician travel—they also entail significant environmental costs through the manufacturing and operation of digital infrastructure. The study underscores the necessity of developing an open and shared database of carbon factors for healthcare systems, standardising methodologies for calculating carbon impact, and undertaking both pre-implementation estimations and post-implementation realisations to better manage DHTs’ carbon footprint.

About Energy SHINES

This paper is an output from Energy SHINES a project delivered through UKERC’s Whole Systems Networking Fund.

Energy SHINES was set up to facilitate partnerships between women Early Career Researchers from energy social science and humanities backgrounds and organisations in key non-energy sectors undertaking work towards net zero.

Access all publications from the project here.