Would you like to make your office more environmentally friendly? Here are some tips every practice can implement and which have measurable positive effects on the environment without taking a toll on your wallet. In fact, you might even save a few dollars.
Submit eyewear orders electronically. “More practices should take advantage of this opportunity,” said Linda Piluso, an associate at Eye Opportunities, a practice management consultancy based in Pennsylvania. “As an incentive, laboratories offer discounts—as much as 3 percent—if eyewear prescription orders are submitted electronically. This also reduces errors and speeds up turnaround time.”
Extend ink life. Printers and copiers have an underutilized feature that reduces the amount of ink used. “Although a slightly lower quality version is produced using the ‘draft’ or ‘economy’ mode, it conserves a significant amount of ink,” said Aaron Harris, practice manager at Memphis Eye Clinic. “Unless I am printing a formal communication on practice letterhead, I always use this printing mode.”
Find substitutions. “Simple adjustments like using an air frame warmer that can be turned off when you are finished, instead of a salt pan that must remain turned on all day, is a much ‘greener’ choice,” said Ms. Piluso, who also suggested using cloth towels in a dispensary for cleaning eyewear. “It is amazing how often the lenses are cleaned even before the patient tries them on for the first time. Using cloth towels that are laundered is a great alternative to paper tissues that are used once and then discarded.”
Choose alternatives and use less. Ophthalmologists have a couple of methods for checking ocular pressures. “It may be quicker to use the pen with a disposable rubber cover at the end, but I take the pressures manually as much as possible to avoid disposing of all those tip covers,” said Ana Lucia Flores, MD, a solo practitioner at the Memphis Eye Clinic. “And, instead of leaving a box of tissues in the exam room, we give patients one tissue when their eyes are dilated. Over time, this conserves a lot of paper.”
Eliminate unnecessary services. Rather than hiring a medical waste removal service that comes to your practice to empty your sharps containers, companies like Stericycle offer a mail-back option. “We participate in the mail-back program primarily because we do not generate a lot of sharps at our office. We send in a full container approximately once per quarter, which is much more economical than paying a company to pick them up weekly,” said Mr. Harris.
Save gas. Each year, more than 300 million tons of carbon are released into the atmosphere from vehicles in the United States. This was a major reason why Memphis Eye Clinic purchased a van for staff to commute to their satellite clinics. “We currently make the trip twice per month. Instead of driving six or seven vehicles, we all ride together,” said Dr. Flores.
Use environmentally preferable products. Disinfectants can be extremely toxic to the environment and anyone who is exposed to the substance. Establish a protocol for handling products that may pose a risk and look for less toxic alternatives. However, not all supposedly green products are created equally. Read the ingredients list and look for products that are third-party certified as environmentally friendly. “I use sulfite-free hand soaps from Whole Foods and Green Works cleaners, which are at least 95 percent natural,” said Dr. Flores.
A new spectacle lens lens introduced by Essilor—Airwear—is being promoted as “lighter, safer, greener.” All aspects of the manufacture and sale of the lens are purported to be environmentally friendly. Recycled water is used in the lens fabrication, and any production waste is recycled in other industries. According to the company’s website, the packaging is 100 percent recyclable and “eliminates over 460,000 pounds of plastic waste globally each year.”
Use natural light. Reduce lighting when possible and replace standard lightbulbs with energy efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs. “We have many windows in our building and try to use as much natural light as possible. The atmosphere is very calming, and our patients really like the dimmer lighting when their eyes are dilated,” said Dr. Flores.”
Keep boxes for future packing. “It is a good idea to retain shipping boxes in case an item must be sent to the manufacturer for return or repair. Practices should establish a system for storing reusable boxes and packaging equipment,” said Ms. Piluso.
Refurbish furniture. Often, being more environmentally friendly falls in line with being more cost effective in general. For example, said Ms. Piluso, “Recovering or revitalizing outdated office furniture rather than buying new items is beneficial—not only to the wallet, but to the environment as well.”
Designate recycling receptacles. Practices should establish recycling guidelines that outline what items will be recycled and where recycling receptacles will be placed. Choose locations where a particular item is usually generated or discarded. Empty boxes from paper reams work well next to copiers and printers to collect paper. “We use a big mail carrier’s box for paper, junk mail and envelopes that do not contain confidential information. Confidential documents are shredded and then recycled. We also have a large receptacle in the kitchen where we collect plastic and aluminum cans,” said Mr. Harris. Ms. Piluso offered another alternative: “Ikea sells an efficient, in-office recycling system that works well and is pleasing to the eye. It can easily be incorporated into any work space.” Most communities have a recycling facility where items such as aluminum, paper, plastic, cardboard, glass, batteries and electronics are accepted free of charge.
Explore new ways to recycle. Some items can be recycled in more than one way. For example, Mr. Harris takes his used paper to Kinko’s where they cut the pages into quarters and add a gummed backing to make sticky notes. “The paper must be in pristine shape and blank on one side. If it is folded or torn, it cannot be reused because it will not cut properly.”
Remember other recyclables. Printer and toner cartridges are often overlooked as recyclable items. Hewlett Packard, for example, encloses a postage-paid envelope in their ink packaging for consumers to return used printer cartridges. Cartridge World accepts used ink and toner cartridges, then refills and resells them at discounted prices.
Donate eyewear to the Lions Club. Create a collection station at your office for old eyewear. “Ophthalmic practices are in a unique position to encourage their patients to recycle eyewear, and the Lions Club has an excellent program that serves people worldwide,” said Ms. Kahn.
An Ounce of Prevention: Waste Reduction Strategies for Health Care Facilities (American Hospital Association; go to www.aha.org and search the Catalog of Resources)
UPDATE TO ELECTRONIC HEALTH RECORDS (EHRs). “Paper consumption is drastically reduced once an EHR system is in place. Exam documentation, test results, imaging, claim submissions and other elements of a patient’s file are all stored electronically rather than in a paper file,” said Lauren Gold Kahn, lead consultant at Eye Opportunities. Ophthalmic Partners, a multisubspecialty practice in the Philadelphia area, conserves paper and ink by utilizing a paperless registration process, said Julia Lee, JD, executive director of the practice. “Patients review laminated copies of our practice and HIPAA policies and then sign electronically so we do not have to print and file these forms. We also scan insurance cards. Our EHR system is interfaced with most of our diagnostic equipment (including all of our high-volume diagnostics) so that we no longer have to print the images.”