Implementing Sustainability in Your Clinic

By Rebecca Waters / 19 Dec 2022

Product manager Rebecca Waters shares her advice on cost-effective changes you can introduce in your clinic to make a difference to the planet

As we continue to witness intense environmental challenges across the globe, from climate change to plastic pollution, efforts to be more sustainable are now more crucial than ever. Over the past decade, ‘sustainability’ has become the buzzword for the future, and is fast becoming a necessity. People have become more receptive to green messaging, and the growing number of eco-friendly options now on the market proves that the interest is there. A 2022 survey by Deloitte found that of 2,000 UK adults surveyed, 40% chose brands that have environmentally-friendly practices and values, suggesting that sustainability is becoming more important to the consumer.1

Within the aesthetic clinic, many areas can be assessed and improved upon to enhance sustainability. This includes reduction of single-use plastics and energy consumption, as well as looking closely at suppliers and employee behaviours. Fortunately, professionals can implement small and cost-effective changes that, in the long-term, will have a positive effect on the planet.

Single-use plastic

As the war against plastic rages on, we’re still seeing worrying reports, statistics and news stories about the damaging effects plastic has on habitats and ecosystems. For example, it’s estimated that five million tonnes of plastic are used every year in the UK alone, with nearly half coming from packaging.2 It comes as no surprise, then, that microplastics (fragments of plastic less than 5mm in length) have been found in both human lung tissue and deep-sea sediment.3-5 A plastic bag has been found in the Mariana Trench – the deepest point in the ocean at around 36,000 feet.6

Within the healthcare sector, plastic continues to be a prevalent issue. Prior to the pandemic, the NHS produced 11,300 tonnes of waste daily, 2,500 tonnes of which was plastic waste.7 Of course, during the pandemic, the demand and consumption of plastic products such as masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) was immense for the general public and healthcare professionals alike. The need to protect human health largely superseded environmental concerns, with many plastic reduction policies and waste management strategies being temporarily put on hold.8

Now, aesthetic practitioners and clinics must be vigilant when it comes to cutting down on single-use plastics. The health of patients and staff members is of the utmost importance, and there may be concerns about whether more environmentally appropriate alternatives provide the same level of protection and quality as disposable/reusable materials. Indeed, single-use plastic items meet the requirements of the industry, whereby patients are partly protected from the spread of infection by using disposable sterile products. Nevertheless, a balance must be achieved between human and environmental health.

There are various areas within the clinic where plastic usage can be reduced. For example, in the staff room, you can stock up on reusable cups, dishes and cutlery, and encourage your team to bring in reusable containers and water bottles. Where single-use items are used for treatments, such as cotton buds, investigate alternatives that use environmentally-friendly or biodegradable materials like bamboo. There are also other options available like reusable syringes, which may not be viable for all indications, but can still cut plastic waste in some situations. Indeed, some plastic items are unavoidable, so it’s crucial to implement strict recycling and/or reusing protocols within your team.

You could organise the recycling of your PPE, gloves and face masks, or consider investing in reusable or biodegradable alternatives that will reduce your wastage. If you do not do so already, position recycling bins around the clinic, especially in the waiting area and staff room, to encourage your patients and team to be more mindful when disposing of their waste. It is also worth considering if the plastic equipment you use is correct for your practice do you need your current size of sharps container? Is it full when it’s collected, or could you opt for a smaller one?

Going paperless is a great way to reduce waste and streamline processes within the clinic on a larger scale. Many professionals have now automated procedures within their clinic, whereby patient forms, payment receipts and recalls can all be handled electronically with no paper required. There are countless digital solutions that can support your decision to go paperless, including clinic management software apps Pabau, e-clinic, Rushcliff, Collums clinic software, Zenoti and Sellsio.

Products and suppliers

It can be challenging to source a supplier whose sustainable vision aligns with yours, but nowadays more and more companies are recognising the significance of providing greener options. As such, there is more choice and it’s worth exploring different suppliers and finding out about their practices. You could work together with your chosen supplier and arrange bulk deliveries to reduce the environmental impact of transport from the supplier to your clinic.9 Have you considered working with UK suppliers, if you don’t already? Not only can you cut costs and delivery times by going local, but you’ll also be helping reduce emissions and your carbon footprint. To further minimise waste and prevent over-ordering and over-spending, it’s vital that a member of your team completes a thorough stock audit and rotation to ensure items with the shortest shelf-life are being used first.

Many clinics will have worked with one manufacturer for a long time, and if you are reluctant to look elsewhere just yet, address your concerns with them and see if they are open to making changes to their products, as prioritising sustainability will increases products’ appeal to consumers. For example, many skincare manufacturers are using packaging that is made from recycled materials or is reusable, so make sure to ask your supplier about this.

Further positive switches can be made with the cleaning products you stock. From washing up liquid to laundry detergent, there are plenty of environmentally-friendly brands available. Even the soaps in your toilets can be switched to those which contain more natural ingredients without harsh chemicals. To save money and lower your carbon footprint, bulk buying products is also a good idea.

Reducing energy consumption

Another common conversation within healthcare revolves around energy consumption. Fortunately, encouraging better habits among the team can be cost-efficient and highly effective. Machines which aren’t used constantly, such as the printer, coffee machine or computer, can simply be switched off when not in use. Computers are thought to draw 94% less energy when in hibernation mode compared to being idle.9 Here, switching the device’s settings to automatically enter hibernation mode after a period of time could help your energy-saving efforts. Aesthetic devices can also consume more energy than is necessary – consider switching them off at the wall at the end of each day or installing plugs which switch off automatically when not in use.

Similarly, swapping your lightbulbs to more energy-efficient alternatives can not only reduce your energy consumption, but also prove a far better long-term investment for your clinic and the environment. According to the Energy Saving Trust, switching from a 50-watt halogen bulb to a light-emitting diode (LED) bulb could save you up to £5 per bulb per year, or as much as £13 per bulb per year when switching from a 100-watt incandescent bulb to an LED one.10 LED lighting is also thought to use around 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent or fluorescent-tube lighting.11

Employee behaviours

Around 9.5 billion miles of all road travel in England is related to patients, visitors and suppliers of the NHS, contributing to approximately 14% of the service’s total emissions.12 This goes to show the additional emissions created by the healthcare industry in general. There are many ways team members could reduce their own environmental impact when travelling to clinic, which will help create a more sustainable workplace ethos. For instance, could those who drive to work take public transport, walk or cycle? Could they team up with other colleagues and carpool? A study noted that a 5% shift to walking and cycling in staff commuting would help reduce carbon and air pollution emissions by more than six tonnes of nitrogen oxide and 0.4 tonnes of particle matter, which are both harmful to health.13 This would avoid around £300,000 in costs to healthcare and society.13

Staff engagement is highly important when making your clinic an environmentally conscious establishment. Consider getting your team together and chatting through the ways everyone can make changes for the better. Increase awareness through training days, posters and videos and encourage proactiveness – ask questions and get your team working together. It’s best to introduce any changes slowly so everyone can get used to them in their own time.

Small changes for the better

These changes are all cost-effective, with most taking minimal time to implement. In fact, many clinics may already be utilising these tips without even realising. Making switches from single-use plastics to more sustainable alternatives, in addition to prioritising reusing and recycling, can radically reduce the environmental impact of your clinic. Turning off lights and devices when not in use and encouraging staff to establish more positive habits are also simple practices.

Starting small is a great way to recognise how straightforward sustainability can be. Alongside these small changes, you can start planning for larger adjustments further down the line, which might include investing in solar panels, for instance. The topic of environmental sustainability within all areas of the healthcare sector has been firmly brought to the fore, and it’s here to stay. Plastic pollution and climate change seem like insurmountable challenges, but only continuous efforts (big and small) can trigger long-lasting, positive change for the planet. 

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