Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Practice Actions for Sustainable Healthcare

Tackling climate change: the pivotal role of clinicians

BMJ 2023; 382 doi: (Published 28 September 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;382:e076963

Rapid Response:

Re: Tackling climate change: the pivotal role of clinicians

Dear Editor

Whilst I agree with almost every word of this article, the use of the phrase 'Carbon Footprint' makes me uncomfortable [1]. It wasn't the only piece in this edition of the BMJ that used the term and it is of course a convenient expression to use. However, I wonder if those who use it realise the origins of the phrase?

Although it is probably impossible to know when the words ‘Carbon’ and ‘Footprint’ were first used together, it is possible to know when and why this phrase was popularised. In 2004 the advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather came up with the concept of a ‘carbon footprint calculator’ for their clients. Who were their clients? British Petroleum (BP). [2]

The concept was that the individual and their actions were/are responsible for their own emissions rather than the fossil fuel industry. It was therefore up to individuals to mend their ways and reduce their emissions and to do this they could use the handy carbon footprint calculator provided. The industry itself did not mention its own hefty footprint, as that would have defeated the aim.

Individuals and organisations do of course need to be aware of how much of the planets resources they consume and I appreciate that carbon footprint is a useful shorthand for this. But I think, both because of its origins and the relatively narrower focus of the term carbon footprint, we could use the term ‘Climate Footprint’ instead. This keeps the concept of a heavy or light tread but allows a more direct connection with the climate crisis that we are undoubtedly in.

Competing interests: No competing interests

10 October 2023
Scott Fraser
Retired Doctor