Sustainability at Synergy Farm Health
Synergy Farm Health is a large independent farm-focused vet practice in south west England. The business employs a team of 35 vets, 20 vet technician/cattle hoof trimmers, 7 TB testers and a large administration team, working out of 5 office sites. The practice area has grown significantly over the last 10 years and now covers Somerset, Dorset, Devon, Wiltshire and extends into Hampshire and West Sussex.
The business operates in some of the most beautiful rural environments in England and fully accepts the responsibility recently outlined by the Minister Lee Rowley, a responsibility that extends to the preservation of that rural environment while recognising that such an environment includes farmers and country folk, as well as hedges and trees.
“Businesses both large and small, across all sectors of the global economy, have a crucial role to play in both reducing their environmental impact, and developing the green technologies that will set us on the path to net zero.”
UK Business and Industry Minister Lee Rowley.
Initially Synergy established a sustainability focus group to analyse its own carbon footprint. It soon became apparent that the word ‘sustainability’ encompassed many different things - from the smallest details of the everyday running of the business right up to their wider role in farming, society and today’s challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change.
Starting with the day-to-day ‘Operational Footprint’, the business signed up to the ‘Race to Zero’ via the SME Climate Hub, thereby pledging to halve carbon emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. This represents a huge challenge as around 85% of Synergy’s scope 1 & 2 emissions currently come from transport*. Addressing these will be a major goal over the next few years, with a focus on replacing the predominantly diesel fleet with lower carbon solutions.
A new biomass boiler and renewable energy contracts are helping to reduce carbon outputs in the office but there is a constant need to monitor all resources and there are many further improvements to be made. The option of solar power for the main office is one area under current review.
Other areas of daily operations are being addressed include tackling waste, resource overuse and sourcing eco-friendly alternatives. Some changes can be made easily, some come with an increased cost or greater commitment, but often it is simply the time involved in researching and evaluating the change that presents the biggest barrier! There are things that everyone can do with very little effort such as using an eco-beneficial search engine or switching off unused equipment. Using the ‘EAST’ principle is as important here as anywhere else – it is unrealistic to expect people to embrace change and do things differently unless those relatively simple things are addressed first.
Establishing a genuine ethos of sustainability among a large team of people is going to be key to achieving these goals longer term. Synergy already has a strong focus on regular meetings, support and general communication; mental health and happiness is taken very seriously by the business. This network is being adapted to enhance communication around sustainability
The Greener Veterinary Practice Checklist and other excellent work done by Vet Sustain amongst others is assisting progress towards solutions, and the Synergy Green Group hopes to expand and extend its influence in the near future.
As to the bigger picture, the business is proud of their longstanding contribution to improving the efficiency of livestock farms, through a constant drive to reduce disease and improve animal health and welfare. This is now more crucial than ever in driving down the carbon footprint of food animal production and producing quality food in the face of the huge challenges surrounding the environment and climate change. Veterinary input is essential where there is a conflict between food animal production and our natural world.
The growing need for a truly regenerative agricultural system which can no longer depend on indefinite unsustainable inputs is intricately linked with Synergy’s advice on herd health planning. Many vets are now realising that whilst their primary veterinary focus tends to be on a target species e.g. the cow or sheep, we also need to understand the impact that management of that animal has on its wider ecology – something the Regen Ag pioneers and climate scientists have no doubt been saying for years. Upskilling veterinarians in these topics is another important area of focus.
Sustainability covers a wide field, from the minutiae of dung beetle life cycles or sourcing biodegradable Sellotape, right up to the massive concepts of decarbonised travel systems and global agriculture. The role of a sustainability champion within businesses can be somewhat head-spinning! But the small things are where it all starts, and the collective actions of many, driven by a strong top-down commitment and our constant re-education, will hopefully allow ‘the bigger picture’ to start to take care of itself.
*Scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources. Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting company.