Natasha Shaw uncovers simple ways to make your vet practice eco-friendly
Responsible practice owners of today are taking time to think about sustainability … and are also proactive in working out ways to weave it into their business. With a need to care for animals already evident, it makes sense that vets also want to protect the world that our animals live in.
And, with an estimated 25 million pets nationally (according to Pet Ownership in Australia Report 2013 by Animal Health Alliance Australia), there are a lot of pet owners, too, who would like to see their environment taken care of.
In the latest Measures of Australia’s Progress (MAP) report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2013, respondents stipulated they want their environment, and their physical and spiritual connection to it, valued. They see that acting to sustain the natural environment and its resources for the long-term is important to business, government, communities and society, and achieving a healthy environment is a collective effort locally and globally.
Carrying the weight of the world’s future may seem like too big a responsibility for a single vet practice. However, if each one took baby steps in the eco-friendly direction, the environment would benefit significantly. There are loads of things you can do to go greener in your practice that don’t cost anything at all, and barely any effort. From encouraging staff to turn off lights when they exit a room, shutting off computers before they leave work and turning off taps properly—every small act makes a difference.
“Bringing in water bottles that can be refilled, rather than buying water seems like a minor thing but if everyone does it, it has a big impact,” says Dr Judith Carney, founder of Mulberry Lane Veterinary Clinic in Orange, NSW. “Also, stickers next to power points and lights are a fun way of encouraging the team to switch off appliances and lights when not in use.”
If you decide to embrace larger green solutions, your practice could even win over new clientele, promote happier staff members, as well as save money initially and in the long run! Here are 15 more eco-friendly solutions to consider.
1 Begin with the build
If you’re lucky enough to be able to start from the ground up, you can establish eco-friendly solutions early on as did Drs Nathan Mannix and Nicole Laurence when they built their state-of-the-art Foothills Animal Hospital in Armadale, WA. “The clinic is constructed of MasterWall, a reinforced polystyrene chosen specifically for its insulation properties. And we combined that with SmartGlass windows that have a high energy-efficiency rating,” explains Dr Mannix. “The building also has a very large reception and clinical area to provide ample natural light. We have added a shade sail in our unique outdoor consulting garden, which also covers our main consulting area and minimises the need for air-conditioning. Our fence, reception desk and merchandising shelves are constructed of recycled local jarrah. These things show our clients what our values are without speaking a word.”
Install eco-friendlywashing machines (ensure it’s also water efficient) and dryers, and even the kitchen microwave. Remember, the more stars on an appliance, the more energy efficient it is. Installing an energy-efficient commercial gas dryer could also be a wise money-saving green option.
3 Flick the film
Consider digital radiography over conventional film-based X-rays which use hazardous chemicals and film that only end up in industrial waste.
4 Gauge the air
“Air-conditioning and heating are required for the team’s, clients’ and animals’ comfort, but is a massive consumer of energy. We have a sticker by the temperature controls saying: ‘Summer temp set 23°C; winter temp set 19°C’,” explains Dr Carney.
5 Use kinder cleaning products
As with any veterinary clinic, it is extremely important to create a pristine environment, and this means using cleaning products that are safe around people and animals but can kill unwanted pathogens, including canine parvovirus, canine distemper, feline leukaemia and salmonella. Switch to products that don’t contain dangerous and damaging disinfectants, such as sodium hypochlorite, and are biodegradable.
6 Go for green lights
Consider LED lights, which can reduce wasted energy by up to 90 per cent and energy consumption by up to 70 per cent, according to Renewable Energy Australia. They also don’t contain hazardous chemicals or gases, or produce ultra-violet (UV) radiation. McIvor Road Vet Clinic in Bendigo, Victoria, switched from halogen to LED lighting and energy use reduced by 50 per cent, from 85kWh per day (May 2011) to 42kWh per day (May 2012)–—that’s an electricity saving of about $5000 in a year.
7 Talk to the big guns
Get in touch with government organisations, such as the NSW Energy Saving Scheme (legislated to run until 2020), or the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target (VEET) scheme, to undertake or pay for energy efficiency programs within your business. You’ll not only save a stack of money, but you could reduce greenhouse gas emissions enormously.
8 Walk the talk
Stock green pet products, including toys, leads and collars made from recycled and eco-friendly materials, biodegradable pet waste bags, and so on.
9 Ditch the car
If you have the room, build bike racks and showers to encourage staff to ride/walk to and from work. You’ll reduce the emissions from cars and have healthier, happier staff.
10 Consider the furniture
Aim for recycled wood and natural fibres—avoid PVC and plastics that aren’t biodegradable and are made using fossil fuels. “Our waiting room chairs are made from sustainable timber, including a bench chair made from old fishing boats. We are also investing in easy-clean waterproof comfortable bedding for the animals that can easily be disinfected to reduce our laundry throughput,” says Dr Mannix.
11 Engage the team
“By running Mulberry Lane Vet Clinic as a sustainable clinic in our core values and belief system, the team has been with me from the beginning,” says Dr Carney. “I have also found having the right attitude and mindset important in ensuring the whole team is on board.”
12 Park the printer
Lean towards electronic monitoring and scanning, which allows for better tracking of patient visits, payments and medical records. “We traded our paper anaesthetic monitoring forms
for a custom-designed tablet program we export directly to the patient’s file. We have further reduced paper by using electronic signature pads, which are again linked to the patient’s file—much to the relief of the nurse previously tasked with scanning the paper forms. Our cage cards are also laminated and, hence, wipe clean for re-use,” explains Dr Mannix. “The pads and tablets were relatively inexpensive, easy to install, and have already paid for themselves in saved staff time, reduced paper consumption, and printing costs.”
Encourage staff to bring in disused mugs, glasses and utensils (nothing needs to match) for the staff kitchen instead of buying paper or plastic cups and utensils. For the waiting room, select biodegradable or recycled paper cups for drinking water.
Use the internet and social media (such as Facebook) for marketing your clinic and advertising any offers, instead of printing flyers and brochures.
15 Keep up to date
New green solutions and products are popping up all the time. “Remain receptive to new ideas,” says Dr Carney. “A really good source is GreenBiz (www.greenbiz.com), and there are other similar sites on the internet.”
These are only some of the many eco-friendly solutions that could benefit your practice while protecting the environment. “I think the take-home message is that being eco-friendly is not as hard as we think,” says Dr Mannix. “Far from being an inconvenience, we have found that, as a young growing practice, our environmental policy certainly creates a point of difference in the area, and many of our clients have mentioned that they choose to bring their pets to us for that reason.”
So, which ‘green’ solutions will you implement in your practice today?