Work · Press

Bringing Sustainability to BCVA

The British Cattle Veterinary Association Congress are working hard to promote sustainability and for the last few years have run a dedicated sustainability stream at their annual congress. Their 2023 congress was no exception and Vet Sustain were invited to participate.

Hannah Davies

Sustainability has featured as a key theme at The British Cattle Veterinary Association Congress for many years in recognition of the importance of bringing this topic to the forefront of discussions within the farm veterinary profession. The 2023 congress was no exception, with dedicated lectures and discussion workshops centered around sustainability in the dairy sector, youngstock health and welfare, soil management, methane reduction, dung beetles and planning for a sustainable future.

Held over 3 days in October in Telford, one of the sustainability workshops at this year's BCVA was a collaboration between the University of Surrey and Vet Sustain, focusing on sustainable futures. Participants were encouraged to explore how the future of the farm vet profession might change in response to current global climate change and sustainability challenges.

Participants joined the workshop from a variety of backgrounds within the farm profession, including industry, academia, practice, laboratory and research. In small groups they were tasked with considering the main climate risks and opportunities facing the profession if we were to experience a 1.5-2*C increase in global temperatures. Key themes arising from this discussion included the availability of essential medicines such as antimicrobials, the need for a movement away from fossil fuelled vehicles, the impacts of heat stress, the impacts of extreme weather events on food security and soil quality, the impact future policy may have on farming, emerging infectious disease risk and changing vector distribution, and water availability.

During the workshop, Vet Sustain showcased their Carbon Calculator tool, the first ever veterinary specific tool for calculating the carbon footprint associated with veterinary businesses. After exploring the difference between scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, participants compared the carbon calculator results from two different veterinary practices, considering the reasons for differences seen and suggesting ideas for how results could be used to target carbon emission reduction.

To finish up, the participants were introduced to the concept of ‘design thinking’, a process that can be used to solve complex problems in a user-focused way, centred on achieving practical solutions that are economically viable, technically feasible and desirable for the end user. The design thinking approach can be helpful when tackling complex sustainability problems as it encourages a designers mindset, approaching problems with creativity, innovation and out of the box thinking. This approach has 5 principles, the first 3 of which were practiced in the workshop:

  1. User-centricity and empathy – stepping into the shoes of the user and building empathy for the target audience.
  2. Collaboration - between multidisciplinary teams to include a wide variety of perspectives.
  3. Ideation – coming up with as many ideas and potential solutions as possible, focusing on quantity, not quality, with no judgement on potential ideas.
  4. Experimentation and iteration – turning the ideas into prototypes, testing them and making changes based on user feedback.
  5. Action – Testing prototypes in real-world contexts.

Using this concept, groups were tasked with brainstorming solutions for one of the climate risks they had earlier identified. One such group, used a design thinking approach to explore solutions for the potential heat stress that animals will experience if global temperatures continue to rise. By considering the problem from the perspective of the animal and the farmer, participants came up with solutions for both housed and outdoor animals. Using a holistic approach, they explored different options to include nature-based solutions as well as acknowledgement of the importance of education for all stakeholders.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has now included sustainability as a major theme within the day one competences and therefore educational institutions such as the University of Surrey have even clearer reason to include education for sustainable development within the veterinary curriculum. Alongside this the RCVS have also recognized the importance of environmental sustainability within the practice standards scheme, encouraging practitioners to consider the environmental impact associated with their veterinary duties. Vet Sustain, a community interest company focused on enabling and inspiring veterinary professionals to champion sustainability have created a number of resources to support practices in meeting the RCVS PSS requirements, all of which are available on their website

Utilising opportunities such as BCVA congress for collaborative and interprofessional workshops is of paramount importance as we face global challenges. It is hoped that these discussions will help to improve understanding and raise awareness as well as inspire veterinary professionals to take the lead in a movement towards a more sustainable future.