Sustainability in dentistry – implementing your sustainable practice plan

sustainability in dentistryIn the third of a four-part series, Mark Topley explains how to implement a more sustainable approach to running your practice.

In our first two columns, we looked at why sustainability matters, and how to create the foundations for your plan. If you’ve not yet read those two articles, I recommend taking a look. 

If you’ve been following along, you now have a ‘why’ foundation. You have your sustainability commitments, and identified your initiatives.

How do you implement your plan in a way that will maximise the chances of success?

There are four elements you must pay attention to:

  1. Break it down
  2. Engage the team
  3. Communicate it widely
  4. Manage it effectively.

Break it down

Far too many efforts at CSR or sustainability fall by the wayside because of one reason. In their enthusiasm, people try to do too much, too soon, and run out of steam.

For CSR and sustainability to embed, it must be viewed by the team as a part of what they do. If it suddenly becomes (yet another) project that they’re expected to deliver on top of everything else, they are unlikely to stay enthusiastic over time.

The way I handle this with clients is to take a longer view. Progress is the goal, not short-term perfection.

Plan to work on a maximum of three initiatives or actions per month. You will overestimate what you can achieve in a month, and underestimate what you can achieve in a year.

Small, consistent action over time is what will generate the momentum you need.

Engage the team

The first step here is to create a compelling vision for your sustainability plan. The work you did last week on ‘starting with why’ will help you.

It’s important that the presentation to the team covers both the problem you are seeking to address, and the vision of what you hope to achieve. Along with the associated feelings of pride, satisfaction and accomplishment that are a part of achieving success. 

Next, before the meeting with your team, form a ‘guiding coalition’. Or create ‘first followers’ from one or two enthusiasts. You need others in your corner before you go to the team.

In the team meeting, start with the problem, explain the vision. Then set out the commitments and the plan the business has made so far.

Engage the team in adding ideas to the mix and get them working together on ideas and choices around sustainability and charity and community engagement.

Getting their buy in before you finalise the plan is paramount.

Communicate it widely

Connecting all your stakeholders with the project is vital.

Start with the rationale and ‘why’ behind it. Create a plan to subtly but consistently drip feed messages into your channels that build an authentic picture of your purpose and CSR.

Avoid big splashes and announcements until you have some concrete achievements to speak of.

Implement and manage it

Your plan is not a ‘one and done’. It therefore has to become a part of the business rhythm. 

You should orchestrate quick wins at the start. Don’t leave these to chance. Make sure you have some tangible results in the first few weeks to encourage the team and also show that you’re making progress.

Ensure that you empower the ‘champion’ to get things done. There is nothing more frustrating than a boss who wants to second guess every decision.

Discuss the parameters at the start and make clear what level of decision making authority you are giving to your team.

Sustainability is an aspect of CSR (corporate sustainability and responsibility), which is a value creating asset in the business. And therefore it needs managing like any other.

You should appoint a CSR champion who is trained, equipped and empowered to drive and monitor the plan. Make sure they are supported either internally or with external accountability.

Finally, make sure that sustainability is talked about in your monthly report. Remind people what you’re working towards. Tell them how you’re doing. Let them know specifically what they can do, and celebrate success.


Next week – the final instalment in the series – how to celebrate your success and tell others about it.

Mark Topley helps practices to successfully integrate best practice environmental and social initiatives into their organisations.

He’s a qualified educator and a fellow of the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Professionals. His vision is for every business to be purpose-driven and responsibly-led. A place where teams are proud to work and customers love to buy.

Read previous Sustainability in dentistry columns:

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