Brushing up on carbon footprint

carbon footprint

Mark Topley describes the importance of dental practices understanding their carbon footprint and ways to improve it.

As we all return to work after the summer break, it’s a perfect time to refocus our attention to the environment. The laid-back days of summer often give us a chance to reconnect with nature, reminding us of its beauty and the urgent need to protect it. 

Often when I discuss sustainability with dentists, their immediate response is to highlight the challenges that necessitate the use of single-use items and personal protective equipment (PPE) in their practices. 

While this is a valid concern that certainly needs attention, fixating solely on this aspect can divert our focus away from one of the most pressing environmental issues at hand – our carbon footprint.

What is carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted directly or indirectly by human activities, usually measured in units of carbon dioxide equivalents. 

In the context of dental practices, the electricity used to power dental equipment, the fuel consumed for staff and patient commutes and the waste generated from single-use items like gloves and masks all contribute to carbon footprint. 

Even the procurement of dental supplies, which often involves transportation and manufacturing emissions, adds to this environmental load.

When released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases act like a blanket, trapping heat and leading to global warming. This has several consequences, including more frequent and severe weather events like hurricanes and wildfires, rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities, and disruptions to ecosystems and agriculture. 

If these emissions continue unchecked, we risk creating an uninhabitable planet, not only for ourselves but for future generations, as well.

By understanding the various activities that contribute to carbon footprint, dental practices can take targeted steps to reduce their environmental impact, thereby playing a role in mitigating the broader consequences of climate change.

The biggest carbon source

Travel accounts for a staggering 60% of the carbon footprint in dental practices. Staff members’ daily commutes and the journeys patients make for appointments significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. 

This issue is further exacerbated in rural areas where public transportation options are often sparse. So, how can we mitigate this?

  • Carpool: advocate for carpooling among both staff and patients. Sharing rides not only reduces the number of cars on the road but also significantly cuts down on emissions
  • Teledentistry: for consultations that don’t necessitate in-person examinations, teledentistry serves as a viable alternative
  • Flexible scheduling: by offering extended hours on select days, you can minimise the frequency of trips patients need to make, thereby reducing their carbon footprint
  • Public transport: as governments ramp up efforts to curb emissions, investments in more sustainable public transport options are on the horizon. Keep checking your alternatives.

Lastly, let’s talk about electric vehicles. While they are undoubtedly a part of the solution, the long-term goal should be behavioural change. 

Investing in an electric vehicle when your current car reaches the end of its life is a commendable step. However, for a more substantial impact, consider pairing this with simpler, albeit slightly less convenient, lifestyle changes. These collective efforts, though minor, can significantly contribute to reducing our overall carbon footprint.

Sustainable changes within the practice

Beyond travel, there are other ways to reduce your dental practice’s carbon footprint:

  • Energy efficiency: switch to LED lights and invest in energy-efficient dental equipment
  • Waste management: opt for reusable items where possible, and segregate waste for recycling
  • Water conservation: install low-flow taps and toilets. Use a closed-loop water system to recycle water within the practice.

Choose one thing, make a difference

As we navigate the complexities of climate change, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. But remember, the journey to a sustainable future starts with a single step, taken by each one of us, every single day. 

I challenge you to choose just one thing daily to reduce your carbon footprint. Whether it’s opting for a reusable water bottle, turning off lights when you leave a room, or taking public transport instead of driving – each small action adds up. 

Imagine the ripple effect if each of us commits to making one eco-friendly choice every day. These individual actions, when multiplied by millions, have the power to bring about monumental change. 

So, let’s start today with just one thing. Your planet, your community, and future generations will thank you. Together, we can create a greener, more sustainable world – one choice at a time. 

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