Go green (without spending a lot of green)

May 1, 2013

For Eric White, OD, “going green” started as a family affair. His son Tyler, a recent college graduate, proposed greening the practice. Tyler White observed, analyzed, and put an eco-friendly makeover into action.

For Eric White, OD, “going green” started as a family affair.

Dr. White’s son Tyler, a recent college graduate with a degree in environmental studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, came to him with the idea of making his practice more environmentally friendly. Given that some of Dr. White’s patients had expressed an interest in supporting green-conscious businesses, it seemed worth exploring.

“It was Tyler’s idea, and he’s taken the lead on it,” said Dr. White.

Like many college graduates in today’s volatile economy, Tyler is currently working multiple jobs to make ends meet. To begin the process of “greening” his father’s optometry practice, one of those jobs has been in effect working as the office cleaning person.

“It’s a lot of work,” Tyler said, “but it’s enabled me to get an idea of how the practice disposes of waste and what can be recycled. Cleaning the office has given me a good idea of how the practice works and what changes can be made. However, it’s been a step-by-step process.”

It’s inaccurate to say that Dr. White’s practice is part of a growing movement to make optometry green. Frankly, given the current economic woes, ODs are far more concerned with another kind of green: money. More and more practices have inquired about making their facilities more energy efficient and less wasteful, according to several design firms that specialize in eyecare offices.

So what can optometrists do to make their practices-particularly their optical departments-more eco-friendly? Here are a few suggestions:

Go paperless. New practice management software systems offer paperless billing and medical records filing capabilities. Going paperless saves trees, of course; it also reduces paper use and, therefore, costs. It’s not easy, as any OD who has done it knows, but this is the most obvious step. Dr. White’s practice is planning to be paperless soon.

Clean green. Not all “green” cleaning products are appropriate for all areas of a healthcare practice, noted Tyler. They just don’t clean well enough. Cleansers from companies such as Seventh Generation, however, are more than effective enough to clean areas such as the reception desk, waiting room, and optical shop.

Most of these products are comprised of organic mixtures rather than chemicals, which means they not only produce less air and water pollution when they are poured down the drain, but they are also healthier for staff and patients as well.

Lighting the way. According to Alan Winig, owner of Eye Designs LLC in Collegeville, PA, which specializes in designing optical facilities for optometry and ophthalmology practices, installing LED lighting is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways for practices to make themselves more eco-friendly.

LED lighting uses less energy than, say, standard halogen lighting, which is better for both the environment and the practice budget, thanks to reduced electric bills. Blanca Rivera, Eye Designs senior interior designer, added that LED lights also give off less heat than standard lighting, which in the optical means that frames on display will be exposed to less color- and material-damaging heat on the frame boards.

Flooring and furnishings. Practices willing to spend a bit more for the sake of the environment can also choose to use furniture made from recycled materials, according to Rivera. “Today, even ceiling tiles are made from recycled materials,” she said.

Several companies specialize in office furnishings made from recycled materials-including, from an optometry practice perspective, chairs and dispensing tables-but many of these products may be too pricey for cost-conscious practices.

Spending a bit more for quality furnishing that won’t break down or go out of style in a few years is one of the most overlooked ways a practice can go green-it means that less discarded furniture ends up on landfills, said Barbara L. Wright, CID, owner of Barbara Wright Designs in Nashville, TN.

“Remodeling a dispensary usually requires buying new display fixtures and dispensing tables, but if you have a sense of style and don't mind shopping around you can recycle used yet stylish furniture by mixing it in with new displays to give your dispensary a unique look,” added Wright. She has had several clients who mined local antique stores to furnish their offices, in effect, recycling furniture.

In terms of flooring, more and more manufacturers are offering carpeting, including area rugs, and flooring tiles made from recycled materials at little or no additional cost over traditional flooring options, according to Eye Designs’ Rivera.

Window views. One of the best green investments Dr. White’s practice made was installing energy-efficient, dual-pane windows throughout the office, said Tyler. Even in a temperate climate like San Diego, the windows have reduced the practice’s energy use-and costs-by keeping the cool air generated by air conditioning inside during the summer and warm air produced by the heating system inside during the winter.

Frame up. If your practice is really committed to going green, you can even look into dispensing frames made from recycled materials. In recent years, a handful of manufacturers have made such products available. Keep in mind, though, that if these recycled frames don’t match the styles-or price points-of your patient base, they won’t sell, and that won’t help the practice or its eco-friendly ambitions.

Sending a message. Finally, sometimes going green isn’t about changing what your practice does but accounting for it, Tyler added. Several organizations sell “carbon credits”-in effect, allowances for the carbon footprint (the energy use or waste produced) of an individual or business-in exchange for a donation to an environment-related charity. According to Tyler, his father’s practice is currently investigating its options in this area, including a program offered by the San Diego Zoo.

“Ultimately, we want to put up a poster in the waiting room that shows the waste produced by the practice and the energy used by the practice, and what we’re doing to reduce or offset that,” said Tyler, whose efforts are already being touted on the home page of the practice Web site.

“As more and more people-including a lot of my father’s patients-are becoming more concerned about the environment, this shows that we’re doing our best to be responsible. And that can only be a good thing for our reputation in the community,” Tyler said.ODT