CSR expert and coach, Mark Topley, puts the case for sustainability in dental practices.
Many events in 2022 have helped to add weight to the case for sustainability. The war in Ukraine highlighted the need for secure sources of energy, which, many argue should come from renewable sources. The record-breaking high temperatures over the summer seemed to confirm the link between human activity and global warming. And these are just a couple of examples.
So how can sustainability be applied to dentistry? Admittedly, the current energy prices make it more difficult to make sustainable choices for heating and power. We are having to respond to what are, hopefully, short-term problems. However, our children and our grandchildren won’t thank us if we make choices that affect climate change.
Although COVID put back some of our plans to reduce our carbon footprint, in other ways it helped us. It was useful to put life and its fragility into context. People also started to think about deeper issues. We all saw the images of smog-free cities because of the lack of cars on the roads or industry producing waste. The difference in the air quality was indisputable. Unfortunately, the pandemic meant it was safer for us to go back to using our own cars than public transport, so cars are back on the roads again, often with only a single occupant, which does not help reduce our individual carbon footprint.
However, there are still some things dental practices can do to reduce their carbon footprint. On average, staff travel accounts for roughly 30% of a practice’s carbon footprint. If your staff members are unable to walk or cycle to work, they could be encouraged to use public transport or share lifts. Car sharing not only reduces their individual carbon footprint but also saves them money as they’re sharing the cost of travel with someone else.
Another way to reduce a practice’s impact on the environment is to consider your procurement processes. How often is a delivery driver pulling up at the door? Could larger orders be placed so fewer deliveries need to be made? Do the supplier and the delivery company have plans for becoming carbon neutral?
Within the practice
There are some small things that can be done in a practice that can help with energy efficiency and sustainability, such as making sure things are only switched on when they need to be. Avoid leaving things on standby and make sure that they are switched off properly. A lot of energy is wasted by leaving things switched on when they aren’t being used.
Reusing and recycling wherever possible is a great first step. In a healthcare environment, many items are single use for health and safety reasons. However, not everything has to be single use. For example, cups. Traditionally these were plastic or paper and were thrown away after each use. There are now, however, stainless steel cups that have a CE mark, that can be sterilised in an autoclave. Yes, the initial outlay for them will be greater than buying disposable cups but, over time, they will end up cheaper and won’t end up in landfill after one use. If you want to encourage patients to recycle there are boxes you can get to put in reception to recycle plastic toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, too.
Redesign of the practice
If you plan to refurbish your practice, then that can offer an ideal opportunity to think sustainably about everything. It’s a chance to consider installing a heat source pump to provide heating or introduce renewable sources of energy such as solar panels. Floor coverings could be changed to ones from renewable sources and if there’s redecoration involved, then you may want to choose environmentally friendly paint.
Water is a precious resource, despite the fact that Britain often seems to be under a permanent rain cloud. However, it is important to conserve water and is likely to become more important in the future as summers get hotter and dryer. Practices have quite heavy usage of water. However, low flow taps can help as they use 96% less water than an ordinary tap, so you may want to investigate installing them as part of your update.
Once you’ve completed your refresh, it could be a good time to review the cleaning products you use, as well. There are natural cleaning products that are environmentally friendly that could be suitable. There are some citrus-based cleaning products available that are certified to surgical grade. Not only is this better for the environment, but it’s also better for patients and the team as they’re not being exposed to harsh chemicals.
Change of mindset
To be able to achieve a level of sustainability that will pay off over the long term, there needs to be some upfront investment. By investing more at the front end in equipment and supplies that can be maintained and repaired, they will last longer and offer better value for money than items that cost less but have to be thrown away if they break. It’s also good to think Fair Trade whenever possible. Products with the Fair Trade logo are more likely to have sustainable transport and supply chains.
Hold yourself accountable
A way to help frame your activity is to find a standard that you feel you would be able to work toward such as Dental CSR or Green Business. By doing this and making it public that you’re working in this way, it shows patients and your team that you’re serious about trying to do your bit. Make sure it’s on your website and if you send out newsletters or updates, tell everyone about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. That way, you’re more likely to stick to it and may even get other people’s support.
However, it’s best not to try to do everything at once. If you choose about three initiatives a month, that should allow you to focus on them properly and gives you a better chance of success.
Mark Topley was the CEO of Bridge2Aid and was part of the founding team that grew it to become the UK’s foremost dental charity. In 2017 Mark made the decision to take his experience and passion into a new role, inspiring businesses to maximise the benefits to be gained from CSR, and work productively and meaningfully with charities. He has wide experience of designing, implementing and developing CSR programmes and partnering with companies from single-handed dental practices to global corporates and everything in between.