Eco-Friendly Practice Initiatives
Benefiting the environment may even save you some money
Lisa Knowles, DDS
Are you interested in maintaining a more -eco-friendly dental office? There are pros and cons to undertaking this initiative, and practitioners should be fully informed before implementing eco-conscious systems within a dental office setting.
First, you have to start with the right mindset. Why do you want to do this? Is it so you can say you are "green" in order to gain notoriety from your patients for saving trees? If so, that's great, but there are many additional reasons to make your practice more eco-friendly. It's important to have a business mindset to govern this pursuit as well. Many dentists not only want social justice value, they want bottom line value as well. Being green can allow you to achieve both. Do it for the reasons that appeal to you, but make sure there is an honest desire to improve something for society, because many people with deep -eco-consciousness have a social reason for why they wish to improve something, and you need to be sensitive to that norm. In other words, it shouldn't merely be about how much money you are saving by revamping your workspace. Instead, you should share the health benefits or societal benefits that will be realized by becoming more eco-conscious. That being said, let's look at some of the pros and cons of a few specific ways to transform your office.
Employ Greener Cleaning Products
Selecting more eco-friendly cleaning products offers many benefits, including less air pollution for those who are cleaning and breathing in the fumes, less allergy triggers, and lower costs when products developed from vinegar and water or lemon and water are employed. Importantly, these products result in less chronic aquatic toxicity after they drain into the waterways. According to the Environmental Working Group, many laundry soaps contain sulfates and sulfonates that can damage thewater as well as unnatural fragrances and colors that could add to the burden of allergens and contribute to environmental degradation.1 When one factors in the economic burden of these potential long-term environmental and health issues, the cost savings associated with using more eco-friendly cleaning products takes on a much larger significance.
Drawbacks to the adoption of greener cleaning products include the time needed to research which products are appropriate for purchase and that some environmentally friendly products cost more at the purchase point. In addition, fabrics may require more drying time in hot dryers to ensure the elimination of microorganisms, and this may use more energy. Extremely soiled laundry may need to be discarded entirely; however, for the average dental office that does not encounter materials that are heavily soaked in fecal matter, blood, or vomit, eco-friendly laundry options are viable options. See the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Healthcare Facilities for more complete information prior to laundering items.2
Use Less Plastic
The production of plastic materials and their presence in landfills has many negative effects. Because plastic does not biodegrade well, it can remain for more than 400 years and, in some situations, possibly forever. This increasing amount of material clutters the surface layer of the earth and may trap heat inward, raising temperatures globally. It also contributes to the presence of plastic in our food chain with unknown health consequences, and it harms many oceanic and freshwater animals.3 Using less plastic means using less petroleum, which decreases the demand for this nonrenewable energy source. This will reduce your carbon footprint on the earth.
Unfortunately, it takes time to learn how to be less of a consumer of plastic. You need to change your buying patterns and find new stores or websites to help with your purchases. You get to be more creative as you learn ways to avoid using plastic. Start by modifying daily living tasks such as eating with wooden forks instead of plastic ones when reusable products are unavailable. Point of purchase prices for dental products made from alternative materials may be more expensive when compared with those of plastic products. In addition, the use of ideal products may have to be compromised, such as employing wooden dental wedges instead of plastic ones. In some cases, I use two wooden wedges to seal my composite preparations in place of one plastic wedge.
Adopt Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Standards
With this mindset, less trash is created, and oftentimes, less dumpster usage is subsequently needed. This can reduce the overall cost of trash removal. Taking this position helps the entire office team consider how much stuff they really need and how many things are wasted on a daily basis. In one initiative, we changed out our "treasure box" toys and trinkets for more useful and eco-friendly items that are still inviting to our little patients.
In cities and towns that do not have curbside recycling available for businesses, a team member must take recyclables to a drop off station. This lifestyle requires planning ahead and is not always congruent with last-minute business needs; however, if your practice cannot achieve a goal the first time, you can always plan ahead for the next opportunity.
Whether you decide to simply adopt some "greener" measures or create a full-blown, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified office, there are many easy ways to make your practice more -eco-friendly.4 It will take a bit of time and energy, but the long-term health benefits and environmental improvements are worth it, and you may even save some money along the way.
1. Laundry Cleaners. Environmental Working Group Website. https://www.ewg.org/guides/categories/9-Laundry?page=3#.W3RDQJNKjOS. Accessed August 15, 2018.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities (2003). CDC Website. https://www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/guidelines/environmental/background/laundry.html. Updated November 5. 2015. Accessed August 15, 2018.
3. Johnston I. How plastic is damaging planet earth. Independent Website. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-how-planet-earth-environment-oceans-wildlife-recycling-landfill-artificial-a7972226.html. Published September 28, 2017. Accessed August 15, 2018.
4. U.S. Green Building Council. LEED is green building. USGBC Website. https://new.usgbc.org/leed. Accessed August 15, 2018.
About the Author
Lisa Knowles, DDS, maintains a private practice in East Lansing, Michigan, and speaks nationally on the topics of eco-dentistry, leadership, and work/life balance.