Sustainability

Our commitment to the environment

At Great Western Air Ambulance Charity, we take our responsibility to protect the environment seriously. We've set ourselves a target to be carbon neutral by 2030, and we're working hard to achieve this. 

This is challenging, as we need to ensure that we can continue to save lives and keep families together for longer. Our work relies on a helicopter, critical care cars, advanced medical equipment and drugs. The technology isn't available yet to effectively replace our vehicles with more environmentally friendly versions, or to eliminate single use plastics in a clinical environment.  

So what is GWAAC doing?

Natural Environment

Extensive planting and gentle management of the land around our airbase has increased biodiversity and created a wonderful habitat for deer, rabbits and other indigenous wildlife.

Recycling

  • We have a growing network of charity shops, which save thousands of tonnes of goods from going to landfill each year. 
  • Dozens of textile recycling banks encourage people to recycle clothing and other textiles in convenient locations.
  • We offer recycling schemes for ink cartridges, stamps and electronics. 
  • We encourage and provide facilities for extensive recycling at all our sites. 

Travel

  • We have been awarded Gold in the Cycling Friendly Employer evaluation by Cycling UK due to our extensive work to encourage cycling to and for work.
  • We operate pool cars and an ebike to reduce the need for staff to drive to work.
  • Our travel policies encourage lift sharing, use of public transport and discourage flying.
  • We operate the helicopter only during times and for incidents where it is needed, and after 7pm always use our critical care cars instead. At night these are usually as effective as the helicopter due to less traffic being on the roads and the restrictions on helicopter flying in the hours of darkness. 
  • We are working in partnership with our helicopter operator, Babcock, and organisations such as Vertical Aerospace to ensure that if and when more environmentally friendly aircraft become suitable for our work, we will be at the forefront. 

Procurement

  • We are alert to unsubstantiated claims about the sustainability of products and conduct our own research where needed. 
  • Our office furniture is almost exclusively second hand and donated, and we seek to buy second hand goods and equipment wherever this is practical (excluding clinical equipment).
  • We purchase items made from recycled materials wherever this is feasible and not cost-prohibitive. 
  • Unlike other charity retail chains, we do not buy in new goods for sale (with the exception of GWAAC branded goods). 
  • We think being green can also be fun, and each year our Secret Santa insists that all gifts have to be homemade, second hand or re-gifted! 
  • We provide vegan alternatives to meat and dairy.
  • We partner with local suppliers wherever practical, such as Wogan Coffee, Clifton Chilli Club, Doveton Press, KN Office and Clifton Canvas

Energy use

  • The energy for our airbase and shops comes from 100% renewable sources.
  • We are working with Bristol Energy Cooperative on plans to cover our airbase roof in solar panels.
  • During 2023, a specialist company audited our energy use at the airbase and we are implementing the recommendations. 
  • We have long term plans to increase our generation of renewable energy at our airbase. 

We always welcome challenge, ideas and opportunities to improve our performance in these areas, so please get in touch if you can help us become even greener (no sales please!). 

If you would like more detail or have some specific questions, please see our FAQs below. 

 

Frequently asked questions

Why do you need a helicopter?
At GWAAC we are the primary air ambulance for the whole of North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire, including the Forest of Dean. We take our duty to provide an excellent service to outlying and rural communities very seriously, and the helicopter plays a key role in this. However, we only use the helicopter where it can be useful. When incidents are nearby or where we think that landing a helicopter would be difficult but using a car would be easy, we will take one of our three critical care cars. The helicopter is not used at night, and we use the cars instead. Overall, this means that we only use the helicopter for around a third of our missions, saving significant amounts of aviation fuel as a result. However, for some patients the helicopter makes the difference between life and death so we remain committed to operating one.
Why aren`t your critical care cars electric?
Our cars often drive hundreds of miles a day, at very high speeds along suitable roads. We can't predict when and where they will be going next. Whilst electric car technology is advancing fairly quickly, when we purchased our existing fleet in 2019 it didn't provide the range and speed we needed. We hope that the next generation of critical care cars will be fully electric.
Why aren`t you using Sustainable Aviation Fuel?
The supply of Sustainable Aviation Fuel is currently limited, and there is not enough to provide for the entire aviation industry. It is also prohibitively expensive for GWAAC. We believe that the Sustainable Aviation Fuel available, and the financial costs associated with it, are best utilised at commercial airlines.
Why do you offer new, branded goods for sale?
GWAAC needs to raise over £4m each year in order to fund our lifesaving service. Having branded items, or being able to purchase them for friends and family, is one of the ways that supporters demonstrate their loyalty to us, and how we promote our charity to others. We believe that if someone isn't buying a hoodie, or some coffee, or a toy from us then they will likely be buying it somewhere else instead. We would rather they bought it from us and helped us raise money in the process. We evaluate each branded item to ensure that it has use and replaces something else that a person might buy. We actively avoid creating things which don't have a useful function.
What happens to the textiles that go into your recycling banks or that can't be sold in your shops?
These are dealt with by third party companies. Most of the clothing is processed and sold abroad, in markets where free and fair trade is available. This is because the amount of people who wish to buy second hand clothing in the UK is smaller than the quantities of clothing we produce. 'End of life' garments are recycled into industrial wipes and cloths, mattress filling, insulation and new fibres.
What are you doing to reduce single use plastics in your clinical operations?
We procure most of our clinical consumables and all of our drugs through South Western Ambulance Service and are therefore dependent on their success and the general NHS green procurement strategy in reducing the carbon footprint of our clinical processes. Whilst this is something we want to work on, this is one of the toughest things to make truly sustainable, and so we are focusing on other projects where we have more control and influence first.
Is the energy at your office 100% renewable?
We operate from a rented office in a shared building and are not responsible for our energy supplies here. The managing agent is aware of our desire to be more sustainable.
Are your pool cars electric?
Our pool cars are not currently electric, as we do not have electric vehicle chargers at any of our premises at the moment. Our office and our shops are rented and it is challenging to install chargers there. However, we have grand plans to develop our airbase and move our office there, and this will include a large number of EV chargers in future.

"Working for an ethical organisation is incredibly important to me and the rest of the team, and being an environmentally friendly and sustainable organisation is a key element of this.

I am proud that we have and will continue to make meaningful progress in this area, demonstrating that any organisation can make a difference, regardless of their area of operation or level of resources."

 - Anna Perry GWAAC CEO