A greener future

COP26 is another reminder of a situation we can no longer afford to ignore

green bulb

With COP26 starting in Glasgow this weekend, eyes once again will be on the environment and the ways that, in our daily lives and through our work, we can seek to prioritise it.

There is no question that our recent history has seen global health prioritised over the long-term impact on the environment. Single-use PPE, endless tubs of chemical hand sanitiser, the many plastic components that come alongside our essential PCR and lateral flow tests – when it comes to protecting our health, the list goes on. 

Armed with science and facts, few would argue that these measures have not been a vital part of our pandemic response. As a public-facing healthcare profession, often with an elderly and/or medically vulnerable patient base, optometry has been at the forefront of this increased caution.

So, where do we go from here? It is likely that regular testing and some level of PPE will be a feature of our lives for a long time, which might make other measures that practices could take to prioritise the environment seem superfluous. What is the real value in remembering a reusable water bottle, when several metric tonnes of used PPE and empty bottles of cleaning product are being thrown out in towns across the country – and world – on a daily basis?

This is not the case, though – and in fact, even in the continuing context of COVID-19, many within the industry are making a clear point to facilitate a more sustainable future. It is about the smaller picture, as well as the bigger one – and about making change gradually, and wherever we can.

As James Conway, CEO of Millmead Optical Group, has rightly pointed out: “You have to think of sustainability as an ongoing process. This is not something that has an endpoint.”

The message of ‘clean and green’ was at the forefront of the SEE Summit on the Environment, which brought manufacturers and eye care professionals together at the start of October to share ways that the profession could work in more sustainable ways. 

Some key takeaways? That the amount of waste created by daily disposable contact lenses is less than might be expected, and that schemes exist to recycle 100% of it. That assigning a staff member the role of ‘sustainability champion,’ in order that they can have their eyes and ears across areas that could be improved, might be a good idea. That business is at the forefront of creating change for the long-term, and that discussions with patients, customers and suppliers need to reflect this by introducing a sustainability angle as standard.

Food for thought? The organisers of the summit will be hoping so.

The wider optical industry is taking note, too. Prioritising eco-friendly materials in frame design is a trend that is only growing, lenses are being created using recycled water bottles, and products such as biodegradable wipes are now readily available.

In this context, why not consider making a commitment to only stocking brands that have made a clear commitment to sustainability? After all, with 80% of respondents in a customer survey saying that would pay more for environmentally friendly products and packaging (see link above), this makes clear business sense too. 

Throughout the COP26 fortnight (31 October–12 November), we are likely to hear many declarations and promises from leaders on how they will secure the future of the planet both in the immediate future, and in years to come. It will remain to be seen whether these statements come to fruition, or if business, corporate interests, or other competing factors push environmental collapse further down the global priority list once again.

Those working in healthcare are likely to be very aware of how the environment impacts human health, and how vital it is that we protect it. We cannot sustain a healthy population if the health of the planet itself is not a priority. With this knowledge, it falls upon all of us to push, in whatever large or small ways we can, for this issue to stay at the forefront both of people’s minds, and their practical and purchasing choices. It starts at home – or, in this case, in practice.

OT would love to hear about any sustainability initiatives you have in practice. If you have a story to share, get in touch.
Read more of OT’s sustainability content here. 

OT  asks...

Are you planning to make changes in your practice to prioritise sustainability?
  • No, I have other priorities at the moment

    1 12%
  • No, it doesn’t concern me at this time

    1 12%
  • No, I think we’re doing everything we can already

    0 0%
  • Yes, I am beginning or am already in this process

    5 62%
  • I don’t know

    0 0%
  • Yes, I already have a strong policy in place

    1 12%
  • Yes, although I haven’t yet

    0 0%