Is dentistry a green industry? – a 25 year perspective

lottie manahan is dentistry a green industry

Is dentistry green? Lottie Manahan discusses the importance of sustainability and shares tips to make your practice environmentally friendly. 

Do you think dentistry has moved forwards in sustainability since you first started your career?

Dentistry is definitely showing signs of movement towards a greener industry. But it’s still nowhere near the efforts needed if we want to make a real difference and prevent what’s to come to our already damaged environment.

The effect of our consumer, carefree lifestyle is already showing its head in global warming, deforestation environmental damage and harm to humans and animals.

There are still a lot of dental professionals out there that feel the scope to improve dentistry’s footprint is limited. In addition, many are scared it will cost them financially.

However, I believe is not true. Awareness is needed to solve this.

Why should dental practices care? Why should patients care?

Dental practices have a significant environmental impact. This is due to the high use of energy and resources, not to mention materials needed that do not easily decompose. Consequently, it ends up in landfill. Our industry is a very guilty party.

Dentistry is a caring profession that puts patients first. If we do not protect our planet, we are not putting them first. Without our healthy, thriving environment we simply cannot survive.

As dentists, our aim is health. Yet green dentistry combines the health of humans with the health of our environment. It provides the opportunity to lessen any further destruction to our planet and ourselves. It’s our responsibility to promote this.

The world is becoming more eco-conscious, especially since the pandemic as it has accelerated a greener way of life.

A recent survey shows that nearly one in three consumers have stopped purchasing certain brands or products because they had ethical or sustainability related concerns about them. This trend continues in the oral care sector with almost half of consumers expecting more eco-friendly oral care products. This shows patients will want to see evident changes in our clinics.

Aside from the environmental benefits, some people believe being sustainable is more expensive for a business. Is this true? What are some of the financial motivations for being more eco-friendly?

The ideal would be for practices to aim to use the least amount of energy needed and only the necessary materials. This would create the least amount of waste and provide a healthy environment for the patients and people working there.

The idea that being green requires untold expense and inconvenience is a fallacy born of stereotypes. Environmental responsibility in business or life generally demands doing without, sacrificing convenience, and buying premium-priced products that may be inferior to their conventional lower priced counter-types.

True, there are some poor quality, pricey green products out there. But that’s no different from the rest of the marketplace.

In reality, ‘green’ can often mean better and sometimes cheaper. In the case of practices and reception areas going green, it can cut costs, improve efficiency, and create more pleasant — and sometimes more productive — workplaces.

Some, but not all, activities may require making financial investments that pay themselves back over time. However many of the changes are free, requiring mostly operational and behavioural changes. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

How can practices be better at adopting eco-friendly measures?

My go-to tip I give to anyone that asks is to nominate someone within the team as the green leader. This person should be allocated time within the week to make changes and spread awareness to the team.

I nominated myself within the team and took control by labelling recycling bins with educating info and attending each room to work out if lights and power need to be on at that time. Making small changes really adds up.

Each week I will share a fact about ways to improve power saving, ways to reduce carbon footprint and even images of the impact of global warming.

Sharing the energy bills within a practice before and after eco changes is a great incentive. This is because it engages people and they can see how those small changes can really make a difference financially and for our planet.

Monthly reports and meetings should have time dedicated for the nominated member to run through changes and results where management must praise their efforts to display their importance.

Where do you hope dentistry will be in the next ten years in relation to sustainable practices?

I really hope to see practices using equipment and materials that have been recycled and have endured a full life cycle to then be reused. Recycling is not good enough.

So much emphasis goes on recycling, but often this isn’t successful. We’re not being fed back materials that have been recycled so you have to wonder where they go. Recycled items in the UK are either being sent abroad or being put into landfill. Very little is actually having an afterlife and this really defeats the object. Perhaps it’s even accelerating environment damage.

We rely on our suppliers to provide these items and I believe we all need to work together.

I believe, like we have regulating files, we should have a green folder to make targets to achieve obtainable goals.

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