Building a "Green" Practice

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Oregon is one of the country’s more environmentally conscious states. When Barbara G. Crabbe, DVM, and her colleagues decided to develop a comprehensive recycling program at their Beaverton clinic in 2009, the initial goal was simply to “go green” and reduce the clinic’s carbon footprint. Four years later, the successful recycling effort has become a valuable marketing tool in the community and has increased camaraderie among the clinic’s veterinarians, technicians and staff.

Credit: Thinkstock Dr. Crabbe's successful recycling effort has become a valuable marketing tool in the community and has increased camaraderie among the clinic’s veterinarians, technicians and staff.

Credit: Thinkstock Dr. Crabbe's successful recycling effort has become a valuable marketing tool in the community and has increased camaraderie among the clinic’s veterinarians, technicians and staff.

Crabbe discussed the program and its benefits in her presentation at the 2013 American Association of Equine Practitioners 59th Annual Convention on Dec. 7-11, 2013.

“An almost endless number of items can be recycled,” Crabbe said.

She suggested starting small, recycling common items such as paper (which accounts for about one-third of the waste stream in the United States and is easy to recycle), cans, glass, electronics and printer cartridges. Later, when the clinic recycling program is established and running smoothly, other materials can be added: wood, metal, Styrofoam packing material, textiles, plastics, baling twine, wood shavings bags and so on. Even medical waste sometimes can be recycled through a local hospital.

Recycling capabilities vary from one location to another, however, and the scope of a program will depend to some extent on where the clinic is located.

“You can’t recycle everything, everywhere,” she explained. “You need to research your area” to determine what can be recycled and to identify when and where the items must be delivered. Crabbe suggested a website, www.earth911.com, which includes a nationwide recycling center locator as a helpful resource.

Identifying a “recycling coordinator” in the clinic is the first step in developing a successful program. Recycling on the scale Crabbe discussed requires commitment from everyone in the clinic, and an enthusiastic and well-organized coordinator can establish a positive tone for the entire program from the start.

The logistics of gathering and transporting the recyclables will vary from clinic to clinic, but in general, Crabbe recommended establishing multiple collection areas in convenient locations throughout the clinic and in ambulatory vehicles. The goal should be to make it easier for employees and staff to recycle an item than it is to simply toss the item in the trash.

Beyond recycling, Crabbe recommended that clinics adopt a “use less, save more” philosophy. She suggested a shift from paper to computerized records, use of digital radiography, sensible packaging choices, and fluorescent or LED lighting instead of incandescent bulbs as ways to contribute to an environmentally sustainable veterinary practice.

Crabbe’s clinic has initiated recycling efforts outside the clinic, including “Team Green,” a program aimed at equine events in the area. Team Green provides collection bins at horse shows and coordinates the efforts of junior exhibitors to gather recyclable aluminum cans, plastic bottles and glass. The items can be redeemed for cash in Oregon, and a scholarship fund for Team Green members has been established with the proceeds from the recycling program. The clinic also joined the “Adopt-A-Road” program to remove trash from sections of a county road.

The recycling efforts have garnered a substantial amount of favorable publicity, including a 2010 BRAG (Business Recycling Awards Group) award, with increased client recognition and support. A clinic recycling program, Crabbe suggested, pays off in more ways than the obvious one of protecting the environment.