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4th June 2020

Reflections on starting Greener Practice

Greener Practice started as a conversation in a pub. Like many people, I have been aware of climate change for decades.

Aarti Bansal

When I was a teenager I remember learning about the of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and being so horrified that the lungs of the planet were being destroyed that a friend and I ran an assembly about it at our sixth form college and invited our local MP. I didn’t become active again in the climate movement until about 6 years ago when I started helping a friend who was organising with the Sheffield Climate Alliance. It was only then that I realised the urgency of the situation; that we had a small window of time to take transformative action for the sake of all future generations. I had thought that I was a climate aware person, but I was shocked and scared for my children.

My work in trying to find a speaker for the Sheffield Climate Alliance event in the lead up to the Paris Climate Talks in 2015, brought me to the attention of the RCGP South Yorkshire and North Trent Faculty (SYNT) Provost, Dr Amar Rughani. Amar was keen to activate our general practice community to take action on climate change. Over a drink in a pub, we discussed how we needed to frame climate change as a health issue and show our community the win-win actions they could take to support the health of patients and planet. Amar proposed that I become the RCGP SYNT Faculty Climate Champion. I was only too happy to lend my time to help influence our professional community and was glad of the platform I felt this gave me.

The first Greener Practice meeting in 2017 had five people, four GPs and a medical student. Amar and I invited people whom we thought would be interested, who had experience building movements and had connections to primary care heath institutions in the city. At that first meeting we decided our name to reflect what we were about. ‘Greener’, as it is about the journey no matter where the starting point, and ‘Practice’ as it is about taking action. We set up a twitter account to connect with others, share ideas and have a social media presence.

In the first few months, I spoke at several events, a regional GP trainee conference, a GP citywide education event, the CCG and the medical school where I worked. These events not only raised awareness they helped the group to grow as at each event one or two people would come up at the end saying they were interested in doing more.

Our meetings have grown and include GPs, medical students, retired GPs, a patient representative, and others (such as PhD students working on nature and wellbeing). Between us we have strong connections regionally. We meet every two months and our actions have been guided by the interests and energy of the group and we use Nancy Kline’ Thinking Time meetings approach to spark creativity and make our meetings as democratic as possible.

Not every action we have attempted has been successful. For instance, installing solar panels on GP surgery roofs in partnership with a community enterprise hit lots of unforeseen roadblocks. However, plenty of other initiatives have been very successful. Examples include creating a local
annual RCGP Greener Practice Award, improving the sustainability curriculum at Sheffield Medical School and developing a website.

In the past few months the interest in our group has exploded. We have forged connections with groups locally, regionally and nationally and have even had interested from GPs in Australia! The Greener Practice group wrote the motion asking the RCGP declare a climate emergency and commit to taking action. The motion was passed on the day of the Global Climate Strike, 20th of September 2019 and I am now co-chairing the task and finish group created to advise the college on actions that need to be taken. A workshop we led at the RCGP Annual Conference in October 2019 was attended by approximately 200 delegates and has led to the formation of a national network of GPs all moving the sustainability agenda forwards.

We recently celebrated 2 years since we formed and reflected on what we had achieved, how taking action has been the perfect antidote to despair and how the experience of being part of the Greener Practice community has been so energising.  We are a joyful community, inspiring each other and hugely supportive of one another. No-one is an expert, or has a paid position, but we are all concerned about the climate crisis and have a desire to act. Even if individually we each have limited time to spend, between us this can really add up. So, if you are wondering how to take action, start a conversation. There will be people out there like you who are probably just waiting to link up and work together to build a movement. Get in touch. Together we can do so much more.