With an environmental movement gathering momentum in dentistry, Shaz Memon suggests ways dental practices can be a little more green.

And so it seems that, in a world more focused on environmental issues than ever before, the Green party entered the European political arena as likely ‘kingmakers’.

With a surge that revealed its strongest ever showing yet – across Europe as well as in the UK – the result, so the political pundits say, gives the Green party every chance of having greater influence in this new dawn of politics as it benefits from a newly fragmented parliament.

A disenchanted electorate has possibly bolstered its popularity but it also suggests an increasing concern about climate change that has, according to one Netherlands Green MEP, Bas Eickhout: ‘Rocketed up people’s list of priorities’.

So, what has this got to do with the day-to-day life of the small business owner, such as the high street dentist, for example?

Eco-friendly dentistry

The dental industry is notorious for its large carbon footprint, with procedures often producing large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and the need for travel adding to the load. Administration, material and lab services all have impact, and so too the more obvious areas of energy and water usage and clinical waste disposal.

However, according to the Public Health England paper, Carbon modelling within dentistry: Towards a sustainable future, sustainability within dentistry is as much to do with delivering high quality care to reduce invasive treatments and repeat visits as it is remedying the above with cycle-to-work projects, an improved stock control strategy, renewable energy, efficiency audits and the all-important ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ principles.

An eco-friendly dental practice may also wish to consider some but not all of the following. Are the products it uses non-animal tested? Are they vegan friendly? How much of what you use is reusable? What is biodegradable and what can be recycled?

As healthcare practitioners, practice owners can sometimes feel torn between making the best (and safest) choices for their patients and balancing the books with savvy business decisions – but, ultimately, both ensure the sustainability of a dental business.

Creating opportunity

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, one of the pillars of sustainable development is meeting the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. A green economy is one that results in ‘improved human wellbeing, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities’.

In a column on the topic of single-use plastics on this website last week, GDP Neel Kothari comments: ‘Whilst I don’t think banning single-use plastics is anywhere near a reality with today’s regulatory burdens, the momentum is certainly growing and dentistry in the UK really ought to be making itself heard about this issue and asking our regulators to show forward thinking and help the profession take the lead on this increasingly important issue.’

Additionally, developing an eco-dentistry business is more critical than ever, especially with a patient base fully aware of the wider impacts their choices have on the environment.

Indeed, being a responsible business may also inspire others to make changes in their own lives. There is also an onus upon businesses to demonstrate accountability to the community in its corporate social responsibility strategy that might create opportunity for people, empower communities, as well as protect the planet.

Tepe, the makers of the interdental brushes, recently partnered with Cannon Hygiene Ltd to introduce a pilot recycling scheme for interdental brushes – an initiative that marks a step change in the current disposal process.

The company also offers a range of sustainably-produced oral health products that use renewable raw materials, sugar cane and castor oil, fully aware that sustainability is everyone’s business and that, increasingly, consumers are making choices based on a company’s green credentials.

Some practice owners may consider a switch over to more ecologically approved systems as more than just a headache in administration – indeed, it can seem a costly and unnecessary expense.

But businesses are expected to be transparent about their efforts to protect resources and counter climate change – and there is no harm in conducting an audit of your systems that may in fact reveal unknown financial leakage.

Green thinking

Green thinking particularly strikes a chord with your millennial patients who rate environmental issues high on their agenda – and the long-term sustainability of your practice income must surely be a high priority for you, too.

Green policies are considered by some as anti-establishment – they often favour fewer working hours and prefer managed local business growth to unsustainable globalisation – but the promotion of flexible working and excellent employment benefits demonstrates to your patients an empathy as well as an understanding of the need to embrace a more balanced and healthier working life.

There is also an expectation by the GDC to place patient interests at the heart of any dental practice – ‘before your own or those of any colleague, business or organisation’.

Sharing information about sustainable alternatives to toothbrushes, for example, is simply a part of this.

Dentists and their teams should also utilise their dental marketing to educate patients, as well as let them know that they are doing to manage any negative impact on the planet.

In a world where green issues matter to many of us, businesses need to prove they mean business. Younger voters are the patients of the future and you ignore their ideals at your peril.

Going green has caught the imagination of an electorate ready to effect change – and this fact alone is certainly food for thought for the dentists and their practices.

What can you do?

  1. Recycle waste
  2. Use metal clinical trays rather than disposable pouches
  3. Go digital and go paperless
  4. Use metal reusable impression trays rather than plastic
  5. Use re-usable wraps, pouches and cloth patient bibs
  6. Install a hot air hand dryer in the toilets
  7. Offer patients a recycling point
  8. Replace disposable instruments with autoclavable options
  9. Source biodegradable alternatives to plastic cups
  10. Bulk buy to eliminate expensive bills and reduce transportation
  11. Educate patients about the alternatives to plastic, such as bamboo toothbrushes
  12. Offer flexible working
  13. Shout about sustainability and how your practice is making a difference on your social media platforms.

Shaz Memon recently launched Wells on Wheels to help women of rural India transport water to their communities, without risking their health, by introducing a water wheel to replace the burden of carrying water in pails on their heads.

For more on the crowdfunding initiative, visit www.wellsonwheels.co.uk.