Micki McCabe, DVM, DACVIM, CVA
Historically, our society has made it simpler to work from a mindset of disposable. Things are changing, but it is a slow process. When you are considering how to improve the eco-friendliness of your own practice, getting those around you to buy-in to the concept is the key–whether this means coworkers, boss, or staff. Be creative. Ask your staff for their ideas. Get your community waste service department or green business department involved. They are often a great resource regarding the “How-tos” specific to your county.
Implementing a Green Team can be incredibly beneficial in kick-starting an eco-friendly office and encouraging staff buy-in. This would be a group of staff that is likely diverse in job description and level within the business, but they share an interest in going Green. This team can be a source of new ideas and fosters people’s feeling of involvement. The Green Team might be utilized for presenting one green tip each staff meeting; they might be asked to brain storm such items as “green” holiday gifts (like reusable shopping bags, reusable water bottles, or even donations to an employee’s favorite charity). Going green can be quite affordable and can even be a cost-cutting measure. Of course, some greening techniques may be more costly up front but save money in the long run. These include solar energy or the purchase and use of hybrid cars for the business. However, there are simpler ways to get started. (Your business might even become certified as a green business in the process.) Let’s start with the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, And Recycle.
We can reduce paper waste by using mostly electronic records, making double-sided copies, and utilizing email for much of our communication. Request only a hard copy from the lab only when they have a final result for a patient. Many electronic systems are capable of importing results directly into a patient’s file. When you use newspaper as a cage liner, it’s a cost cutting measure that fits in both the ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’ categories. Utilizing cloth towels or blankets and only laundering full loads of laundry reduces the amount of water used and saves money as well. Composting is one fairly innovative means of reduction that has been implemented in some of our hospitals. We are able to compost food scraps–including meat products. (The county composters get to a higher temperature than your average backyard compost pile, and they don’t have critters scavenging in them.) Newspaper, litter, compostable urine pads, paper products, and even hair can be composted. This has cut back dramatically on waste produced in our hospitals, and has been well received by doctors and staff alike.
Another very simple idea is to turn off appliances and lights not in use. Turning off non-essential computers, printers, lights and other electronic devices at the end of the day are simple tasks, but insuring that this is done may require some reminder signs/notes or designating a staff member to perform the job daily. We have many rooms equipped with automatic light switches that turn on/off based on motion sensors. This surprises some clients when the lights go out during longer visits with their hospitalized pets!
As Americans, we have gotten very accustomed to disposable water bottles, take-out containers, and plastic utensils. Supplying these items for your staff in washable form–such as ceramic coffee cups, filtered water and washable glasses, and real plates and utensils–will encourage employee use, especially if you have a dishwasher in your break room.
By recycling, we are contributing to a source of raw materials for manufacturing. We have to remember the other side of the equation; we must buy recycled products! These can include printer paper, letterhead, and janitorial supplies.
When we looked at how to decrease our medical waste, we consulted with our local recycling centers. We were then able to focus on the items that were most worth our efforts when it came to sorting our trash. It turns out the local centers will accept irrigant bottles and syringe casings, since these are not technically medical waste. We collect these #4’s and 5’s separate from the #1 and 2 plastics accepted by the city curbside pickup, and we bring them directly to the recycling center.
What really helped encourage recycling was that we put containers for these plastics and for paper EVERYWHERE. That was the key. No one is going to walk around the hospital to put a syringe case in a single bucket. Making it easy really encourages people to sort every scrap. In the OR, the staff has been amazing at decreasing garbage by recycling all packaging, whether from peel pouches, gloves, implants, foil from the scalpel blade package and suture material packaging. Most paper outside the OR can also be recycled, assuming it is clean. Don’t forget pet food cans!
Other green improvements that we have implemented at VSA and VMS include moving toward videoconferencing between all four of our facilities. This saves time, gas, and most importantly, improves quality of life for doctors who no longer have to travel to meet in one facility after a full workday. VSA also utilizes Priuses for transportation to many of their mobile surgeries. Other ideas that might be worth considering include encouraging bicycle commuting, carpooling, and even reminding staff about Spare the Air days when they arise.
Socially responsible investing (SRI) for 401k accounts can be another place a practice can improve its carbon footprint and do something positive from a more global standpoint. Our 401k has been SRI for years, and we have been very pleased with its track record–especially when compared with more mainstream benchmarks such as the S&P 500.
Helpful websites for going green: