Sustainability in dentistry – what is COP26 and why does sustainability matter?

sustainability in dentistryAfter COP26 launched this week, Mark Topley explores what sustainability means for dentistry and those working in the profession.

You can’t fail to have noticed that a rather important event kicked off in Glasgow this week.

In planetary terms, COP26 (or the 26th Council of the Parties) is the most significant global government conference ever.

We’re all increasingly aware of the uncomfortable truth that our way of life is unsustainable. COP26 represents a watershed moment when governments, pressure groups and industry leaders will gather to make environmental commitments that will hopefully avoid irreparable damage to our ecosystem.

Whilst witnessing such hugely powerful groups making global decisions, it’s tempting to think that our actions are insignificant. And it certainly is true that without concerted action by governments that life as we know it will not continue. But that doesn’t mean that we have no  role to play.

Business has a key role to play in averting irreversible climate change and protecting the environment and its resources for future generations. And dentistry is no different.

Why sustainability matters

Sustainable approaches to life aim to protect our natural environment, human and ecological health, while driving innovation and not compromising our way of life. It’s about a way of life that does not deplete or damage natural resources for future generations.

When thinking about the future that awaits our children, previous generations have created a complicated set of conditions. In many ways society has improved, as with technology and quality of healthcare. There are others, such as our stewardship of the planet, where previous generations have seemingly failed the next in line.

This means leaving behind a global environment in worse shape than when our generation inherited it. 

The data

The easiest way to illustrate the importance of sustainability is by considering the results of not following sustainable living practices.

Since the industrial revolution, we have been consistently damaging our planet. The lack of education and understanding of sustainable practice has led us to a dangerous situation. Currently:

  • The world is warming at 10 times the pace normal for its typical cyclic temperature fluctuations
  • Sea-levels continue to rise at 0.31cm per year
  • The UK generated 222.2 million tonnes of total waste in 2018, with a household recycling rate of just 45%.

When you consider these figures, the need for environmental stability becomes apparent very quickly.

The employment factor

The stats tell us that most people prioritise environmental and social responsibility above everything else they expect from a business. This is especially true for millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996). In this group only 42% believe that business leaders work hard to minimise the environmental impact of their organisation.

Such a low view of what our business leaders are doing leads to a disengaged, unhappy workforce who will jump to a new job without a second thought.

But for companies that create strong sustainability plans taking a value based, structured approach, the opportunity to attract, hire and retain staff is much more promising.

Millennials feel so strongly about the issues facing our world today that 62% of this group would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible organisation.

Consumers care too

‘Nowadays, when patients look for quality, they take into consideration more than the simple offer of clinical excellence and customer service. They are interested in your core values’ – Chris Barrow, author, speaker, coach.

As consumers, we are bombarded with environmental and social issues through news feeds, televisions and newspapers. Consumers have taken these huge problems to heart. They are demanding that companies prioritise environmental and social issues.

Eighty one per cent of people feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. And they are willing to support companies who contribute to change.

Consumers are willing to put their money where their conscience lies, with 72% of generation Zs (those born between 1997 and 2015) willing to pay more for products from companies they believe are working to solve environmental and social issues.

In the 50-64 age group, over half (51%) are willing to pay extra. A dramatic rise in this group in only a few years.

Sustainability matters

From a moral, ethical and commercial perspective, the evidence for me is clear. Sustainability matters. It matters if we want to attract and retain staff, it matters if we want to attract patients, and it matters for our children, grandchildren and generations to come.

In a series of blogs over the next month, I will unpack sustainability in dentistry. And I’ll offer straightforward and easily implementable advice for you to start, or improve your sustainable credentials.

Next week we’ll look at ‘how to plan a more sustainable practice’. Followed by ‘how to execute your sustainable practice plan’. And finally ‘reviewing and celebrating your sustainability progress’.


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