There are many ways a veterinary clinic can reduce its environmental impact, but one of the easiest ways is to invest in more sustainable materials for high-volume, low-cost supplies. Here, Emma Culjat-Vukman finds eco-friendly alternatives to commonly used products.
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Improving sustainability has become increasingly important for vet professionals as well as the clients they serve.
But how do you make a difference in your workplace?
According to vet and environmental campaigner Laura Higham, vets are in a strong position to be successful green advocates within their businesses and communities.
‘Vets and members of the vet-led team occupy an extraordinary niche for driving the environmental agenda in their roles and in the sectors we influence,’ she says.
‘As professionals working in One Health, we understand the inextricable links between human, animal and environmental wellbeing, and hold a position of trust in communities, which we can leverage for change.’
Switching to more environmentally friendly products can increase your client base
Higham, who founded the campaign group Vet Sustain last year, says switching to more environmentally friendly products is a good place to start. This may come at an initial cost to your clinic but it can increase your client base and improve how current clients view your business.
Buds have a number of different uses in clinics and are often produced with a mixture of cotton, bonded paper and sometimes plastic.
Cotton production relies on harsh dyes and finishing chemicals that pollute the local environment.1 It has also come under fire for using destructive and toxic farming practices.2 Cotton itself is renewable, biodegradable and recyclable, so if the farming practices and production are sound it can be an excellent option.
When considering replacing your current buds, look for companies that produce cotton buds made with post-consumer recycled paper stems and organic sustainably grown cotton.
Another option is bamboo buds. Bamboo plants grow quickly and do not require pesticides or additional fertilizers.3 Bamboo is highly sustainable and biodegradable and is an excellent option.
Non-sterile gauze pads
Gauze can be made from a number of different materials, including cotton, rayon, polyester or a combination of these fibres.
Rayon is produced using cellulose from wood pulp or cotton. It is seen as eco-friendly as it is made from plants; however, the overall environmental impact of its production is severe. This is due to the necessary deforestation and the toxic by-products released during production.4 It has also been identified as a major fraction of the microplastics found in marine surveys.5
Polyester is a synthetic textile and usually refers to a material called polyethylene terephthalate. Polyester dyeing and finishing has been shown to release harsh chemicals into the surrounding air and water. It is not biodegradable and if blended with natural fibres makes the whole pad non-biodegradable.1
Organic and sustainably sourced cotton or bamboo options are much more environmentally friendly and available from a number of manufacturers.
However, it is important to check if the cotton or bamboo is blended with synthetic fibres – that would mean the whole pad will not biodegrade.
Although most practices use towels and mats in-house, puppy pads are common around clinics to send home in carriers or with new owners. They are made by bonding some kind of fabric blend to a plastic base to stop leaks from going through. Most brands are not recyclable or biodegradable and are particularly unfriendly to the environment.
If your practice likes to keep these pads on hand, look to buy them from companies that produce bamboo versions that are leak proof and fully compostable.
Facial tissues and toilet roll
Both of these products are found in every clinic and replacing them is an easy way to make a big impact. Virgin forests are commonly used to produce the paper pulp for facial tissues and toilet roll. There are many companies that offer these products made from 100 per cent post-consumer recycled paper as well as companies that produce 100 per cent sustainably sourced bamboo versions. Usually the difference in price is quite small, especially when purchased in bulk.
Examples of good certifications
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): companies must meet standards that limit the use of toxic bleaches, dyes and other chemical inputs during the production of textiles.
Ecocert: certifies more than 150 programmes including Organic Farming Europe, Organic Farming USA and GOTS. The presence of its name indicates the product has been certified by at least one of its certifying bodies.
Organic Content Standards: companies can apply this to any non-food product containing 5–100 per cent organically grown material.
Certified B Corporation: indicates a company that considers the impact of its decisions on its workers, customers, suppliers and environment.
Rainforest Alliance Certified: certifies that companies have been audited to ensure their practices meet standards for environmental, social and economic stability.
Fair trade Certified: ensures products made in developing nations came from farms that have been certified to provide fair wages and safe working conditions.
FSC Certified: issued by the Forest Stewardship Council and indicates that the materials used in the product have been sourced responsibly.
Syringes are a necessity for vet practices, and are often not recyclable. But you can find differences in the manufacturing process.
‘Emerald’ syringes are a new line of syringes from American medical technology company BD, designed to reduce the environmental impact of production. They are produced with up to 20 per cent less material (reducing raw material consumption) and the plant where they are made uses 100 per cent renewable energy sources.
Deciding on the right supplier
When deciding on which company to purchase from, it is important that you are alert to ‘green washing’. This is the use of buzzwords like ‘green’, ‘responsible’ and ‘ethical’ that imply the company invests in environmentally friendly practices without it actually needing to. Always check the labels to ensure that third-party organisations have certified the product.
Certification showing action towards sustainability and the environment can direct you to the right companies and products. Some examples can be found in the box above.
Sharing your environmental journey with clients
Once you have made the switch to more environmentally sustainable products, you can:
• Train staff to mention to clients that the puppy pad in their pet’s carrier can be placed directly in their region’s compost programme as it is fully biodegradable.
• Post images on your clinic’s social media channels of staff using eco-friendly products to highlight your commitment to the environment.
• Create labels to place above facial tissues and toilet rolls that say that your practice is committed to sustainability and the products are recycled or sustainably grown.
Currently, veterinary purchasing companies offer few environmentally sustainable options.
If you want to start your business’ eco-journey, contacting the purchasing company you rely on and asking for more sustainable options is a great start.
Reducing your orders and prioritising ordering from responsible companies directly is another clear way to show the companies that your practice, and the profession at large, wants more sustainable options. ●
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