Helping the Veterinary Sector become Carbon Literate

Awareness of the climate and ecological emergencies facing humanity is perhaps the highest it’s ever been. The devastating extreme weather events of the last couple of years have highlighted how quickly climate change is accelerating, and even if we don’t live in affected regions, the knock-on impacts on food prices, health, and the cost of living are being felt by all. The veterinary sector has started to see its impacts, such as the knock-on effects of the extreme weather events being felt by farmers or increased cases of heatstroke amongst patients as the summers get hotter.

The climate and ecological crises are overwhelming, and although polls and surveys consistently find that 70-80% of populations around the world report feeling concerned about them, climate action is still limited to a much smaller percentage of the population. This pattern is replicated within the veterinary sector, and it’s not difficult to understand why: the profession is facing a recruitment and retention crisis; stress and burnout are huge issues for many; practices are busy and often under-staffed, to name just a few of the day-to-day challenges.

Finding the time, headspace, and energy to think about another thing is difficult, and when that other thing is also incredibly overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, it’s perhaps no surprise that it’s not seen as a priority for some. This leaves us with what is sometimes termed an ‘intention to action gap’.

The Veterinary Carbon Literacy course

Carbon Literacy is described as “An awareness of the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities, and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions, on an individual, community and organisational basis.” The veterinary sector has a huge potential to take meaningful climate action to reduce the emissions associated not only with their practices and workplaces but also to have a broader influence on animal agriculture and equine and pet ownership, each of which carries their own carbon footprints and associated impacts. These actions will often also have positive benefits for animal health and welfare and can also, in many cases, save businesses money.

Understanding the origin of an organisation’s emissions and impacts and where individuals can have agency in their own roles is enormously important. This knowledge gained through the training can inform better decision-making and can help people feel more confident in both those decisions and the conversations they are having with colleagues and clients.

Since launching in March ’23, nearly 100 veterinary professionals have taken part in the course with participants drawn from small, equine and farm animal practices, academia, pharmaceuticals, and corporates from around the world. Those attending have included clinic directors, sustainability leads, vets, RVNs and receptionists; Carbon Literacy is suitable for everyone because every climate action counts.

Carbon Literacy training involves 8 hours of online or in-person learning, delivered live, and while that can feel like a big chunk of time to try and find, the live element of the training is so important. So often, participants talk about being the only one in their organisation who is trying to drive these very necessary changes and how it can feel like a lonely and thankless task. Coming together in these sessions not only helps people become much more confident in their knowledge and in talking about climate change in the context of their practice, but it also helps them to feel supported and to see that they are very much not the only one who cares and trying to affect positive change.

In order to be certified as ‘Carbon Literate’ and join the 80,000 people from different organisations and sectors around the world who have achieved the same, participants need to create an ‘action plan’ at the end of the course. This action plan comprises two carbon reduction pledges – one that is something they can do on their own in their workplace to reduce emissions, and the other is something that they can do as part of a group.

Here are some examples of some of the pledges made as a result of the Vet Sustain Carbon Literacy course:

  • “I will collaborate with another staff member who also has completed their Carbon Literacy training to deliver Carbon Literacy training to staff and students at the university where I work.”
  • “Get four farm businesses to enrol in the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme Plus standard in the next 18 months. With the specific aim of increasing farmers awareness, knowledge and understanding of the sustainability standards and therefore remove the negative stigma of compliance and regulation often perceived.”
  • “Work to achieve the RCVS PSS Environmental Sustainability Award and Investors in the Environment (iiE) Bronze award.”

Whilst individual pledges and actions can often feel insignificant in the face of challenges like the climate and ecological crises, another advantage of the Carbon Literacy course is that it helps us to start to see the collective impact we can create. As a very rough estimate, by the end of 2023, the combined emissions reductions of the pledges made as a result of the training so far stand at 77,960kg CO2e. These numbers don’t mean much to most people, so put that into context, it’s equivalent to 22 return flights from London to Hong Kong, or the same amount of carbon as nearly 8000 trees can absorb in a year. And that’s with just under a hundred people doing the course – imagine the impact of this training with more practices and organisations on board!

The Vet Sustain Carbon Literacy Course for the Veterinary Sector is back for 2024, with dates live already for March – please find more details here.

Alternatively if you’re looking for bespoke dates for your practice or organisation, please do e-mail we would love to hear from you.

For other Carbon Literacy training opportunities head to our Training Page.