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Can You Leave a Lighter Footprint?

Posted Jun 06 2009 11:25pm

"Mom, that's not very sustainable."  My son said that about something I was doing the other day.  I've heard that word a lot lately.  Is it just a new catchword or should we be paying more attention to what we're doing? 

    "That's not very green."  My boss has been saying that about the way things are packaged both entering and leaving our office lately.  Green and sustainable go together and I think it's worth examining in our practices.

    I wondered exactly what being sustainable meant, so I googled it.  I'm so much smarter since I started googling things.  According to Wikipedia, sustainability refers to a lifestyle that attempts to reduce the use of the earth's natural resources.  It can be improved by altering modes of transportation, energy consumption and diet.  It means conducting our lives with respect for the Earth's natural resources and cycles.  That's not so off the wall, is it?  It might even make things more interesting and even attractive.  Take it a step further, it might even make us more attractive. 
    The concept of sustainable living is not new to this generation.  As far back as 1854, Henry David Thoreau addressed the issue in his book Walden.  It doesn't mean you have to stop bathing and toss your car keys into the river.  Sustainable living requires you to think about what you do and how you do it.
    There are many ways to to live greener in our dental practices.  Reuse whatever you can.  We are quick to toss away plastic bags that products are sent in, but try to find ways to get the most out of that bag before sending it to the landfill.  Packaging is absurd in some cases.  I am astonished to open a fairly large box from a supplier, dig through yards of bubble wrap, only to find an object the size of a pen underneath it all.  Write to or call your supplier and ask them to rethink their packing.  Write to manufacturers and tell them you think they can use less plastic and packaging for their products.  Tell them that you will take wasteful packaging into consideration when ordering materials. Patterson, Henry Schien, Smilemakers, Practice Works, etc., take notice, we'll be asking you to reduce and rethink your packaging. Manufacturer's we'll be paying attention to what you offer, as well.One problem is, we like convenience.  I refuse to buy individually wrapped pre-loaded topical swabs because it's ridiculous to use that much packaging when you can just stick the swab in the topical in the same amount of time or less, than it would take you to unwrap the other.  I'm re-thinking our use of individually packaged retraction cord.  All those little packets end up in the landfill.  Multiply it times all the offices that use them and it's a heap of plastic.  But it's so convenient and that's what keeps us ordering it.
    Our lab work used to go out inside a plastic bag that was then placed inside a plastic coated paper bag.  My boss asked the delivery person if it was returned inside the same paper bag and she said that it wasn't.  That bag was thrown away and another was used to send it back.  So now we staple the lab slip to the plastic bag and send it like that.  Since we send at least two cases a day, it feels like it will have an impact in some small way. 
    If we can all find a way to make a lighter footprint, those small impacts will add up to more sustainability.  When you think about the waste we produce in dental offices, don't we have a responsibility to lighten it where we can?  Take notice of the amount of trash you take out to the dumpster every day.  It adds up to a lot over the course of a year.
     Challenge your staff to find ways to be more sustainable.  See if they can't find greener ways to get to work, carry their lunch, or use the office resources.  Maybe someone will offer to set up recycling for all the magazines you would usually toss in the trash.  Two or more might decide to carpool, or better yet, ride their bikes to work.  Another might set up a lunch co-op where everyone takes a turn preparing a healthy, unprocessed lunch for all to share.  It might surprise you to see what they come up with.  Make it fun by voting on the green employee of the month and give that person a gift certificate to Whole Foods or some other green reward. 
    Change doesn't have to be painful.  Living with awareness doesn't mean you have to change who you are.  It isn't weird or nerdy.  It's smart, it's interesting and it's the right thing to do.  Read my first sentence.  The next generation is watching.  Don't you want to make them proud?

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