Achieving environmental sustainability in dentistry

sustainability in dentistryThere are several ways to reduce your dental practice’s impact on the environment. Berian Churchill-Williams explains.

The internet has forever changed the way we buy products and services. As a consequence, enterprises need to make it their business to understand exactly how consumers are reaching their purchasing decisions.

Inevitably, cultural influences, age-related trends, and online recommendations and reviews play a huge part in the process. However, there’s a new kid on the block that every business needs to consider: sustainability.

Eco-conscious sentiment

Concern for the future of the world is growing. How we live our lives is impacting this planet. As we all know, the prognosis for its long-term health is not great.

Global warming, climate change, pollution, deforestation, waste disposal and ozone layer depletion affect us all. In turn, fear for the demise of our environment is also influencing how consumers choose to spend their money.

There is huge public appetite for change. And as many of us seek eco-friendly alternatives to our usual options, there is a general consensus that the choices we make now just might be in time to future-proof the planet for generations to come.

In essence, global environmental concerns are influencing what we buy, how we buy it, and from whom.

As part of the healthcare sector, the dental industry has a part to play in reducing its environmental impact. The biggest contributors to the dental carbon footprint include staff and patient travel (more than 65%). Procurement and energy use also having an impact (Duane et al, 2017). And none of these are easy to reduce. With a patient base conscious of the wider impact their choices have on the environment, what can dental teams do to nurture an eco-friendly business?

Sustainable partnerships

The digitalisation of dentistry not only makes for a greener practice, but also improves efficiency.

However, sustainability is also about how we use the natural resources to hand. So small steps such as switching to energy-saving light bulbs, reducing water usage and plastic use, and recycling where possible, can obviously make a difference – especially if we encourage patients to do the same.

Sourcing products from environmentally-friendly companies is also important. The team at Williams Dental is ever-mindful of the need to limit its impact on the environment and sustainability. It is, therefore, implementing changes with a number of ‘green’ initiatives within its warehouse and operation.

We are at the second stage of testing for Woolcool. This is a wool- and cardboard-based alternative to polystyrene boxes, primarily used for cold chain products, such as vaccines, and which are 100% recyclable/biodegradable. We are also in the process of switching to paperless orders, which means displaying orders digitally – greatly reducing paper usage.

Analysis is in place to gauge viability of moving to a 100% recycled paper-based void fill, and we expect to complete this by March this year. Our new automated box erector and sealer also ensures that both match the height of product, greatly reducing the need for void fill through greater use of box space. And, because we operate without reps, there are no related carbon emissions.

Every one of us is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. So, while the actions of businesses are in part motivated by a desire to future-proof our planet, we should also consider applying those all-essential principles of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ to our everyday living as well.

Reference

Duane B, Berners Lee M, White S, Stancliffe R, Steinbach I (2017) An estimated carbon footprint of NHS primary dental care within England. How can dentistry be more environmentally sustainable? Br Dent J 223(8): 589-93

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