10 Aug 2022

Dr Clare Pettinger gives an insight into the subject of her Elsie Widdowson lecture.

We are now all well aware of the evidence supporting the climate crisis, which is already drastically affecting both human and planetary health.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have set a target of 1.5C as the ‘safe’ upper limit to mitigate the effects of climate change, and governments all over the globe are responding to this by taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the UK, for example, the NHS has taken ambitious steps to become ‘net zero’ by 2045 (NHS, 2020) and we all have a responsibility to become ‘greener AHPs’ to support this agenda. The Greener AHP hub is one way to support this (AHP, 2021).

As a profession, dietetics is leading the way to tackle this important agenda. The BDA and its members have supported this topic to come to the fore via its sustainable diets policy (BDA, 2021) and accompanying visionary One Blue Dot project (BDA 2018) – the latter of which has been recognised globally as an example of best practice for dietitians.

From my own experience, however, there is also a sense of ‘complexity paralysis’ around this topic. There are so many factors to consider, with multiple competing agendas (social, political and economic), so often it is hard to know what we can do to make a difference. Individuals often feel powerless that their own efforts will merely be a drop in the ocean in the wider scheme of things.

But I believe strongly that every little change we make individually can join together to create a collective movement for transformational change. As many of you will know, I am a passionate advocate for environmentally sustainable diets and sustainable food systems, in my capacity as professional dietitian, educator and active researcher, as well as in my personal life.

It is my absolute honour to be given the opportunity to deliver the Elsie Widdowson lecture this year – I have some very big boots to fill! My topic will be ‘How dietitians can protect the planet’. I have been described as a ‘leader’ in this area, for which I am very grateful. But I have been very lucky to have had multiple opportunities to develop my research and action to champion this agenda. But this is only because I have worked alongside some amazing and inspirational people along the way, who have a similar passion to make a difference. I believe we are all (collective) leaders, because we are all ‘experts by experience’ and can facilitate change.

So here is a flavour of what I will be covering in my lecture on 6 September:

  • My own journey as a dietitian with a GREEN focus
  • The evidence to support this agenda (national and international), including One Blue Dot, Greener AHP hub (NHS net zero) and ICDA sustainable food systems
  • What does it mean to be green(er)?
  • How can you be a green(er) AHP leader?

I intend to keep my session both practical and positive, and am likely to throw in some creative touches to get my messages across. In the meantime, I am keen to hear from you on how you manage your own green activities and actions. I will share some insights via social media and if anyone wants to get in touch to share their ideas and top tips in the run-up to 6 September, please use @DrCPettingerRD (Twitter and Instagram) with the hashtags #ElsieWiddowson2022 and #GreenerDietitians.

I look forward to hearing your voices so that this can be a collective conversation for greener action moving forward.

The Elsie Widdowson lecture will take place on 6 September as part of the BDA AGM 2022. To register your place, go to bda.uk.com/agm



Clare Pettinger