“It’s part of the practice and its mindset – it’s what we stand for”
Recognising sustainable excellence: Simon Berry
Optometrist Simon Berry has been recognised by the AOP for excellence in sustainability, acknowledging the environmental and ethical changes he has made to his practice over the last eight years.
Passionate about sustainability, Berry’s journey in this area began in 2015 and stemmed from a sense of responsibility and accountability. He felt if he was selling a product he was endorsing it, and therefore it was imperative that he knew where it came from.
“I have around 16,000 patients so the products that I choose to stock are important to me. I did not want to endorse a product that wasn’t sustainable, or if I didn’t know what it was made of or where it had come from,” Berry shared, explaining: “Sustainability in my practice came out of the desire to properly be able to tell the patient about the product and be proud of the product I was selling.”
In the beginning
This desire led Berry, who opened Simon Berry Optometrist in Gilesgate, Durham, 20 years ago, to establish what he describes as a simple 10-point questionnaire “all about traceability and making sure that workers were given fair conditions.”
Berry realised the importance of asking these questions as many suppliers did not have the answers. “The ripple effect was that most of the companies had never been asked the questions before. It was very much, no one has asked us and no one cares,” he said, explaining that practice owners are “so far removed from the people who know that information.”
Making change little and often, over the years Berry has switched to a green energy supplier, researched and implemented waste management changes to ensure the business is recycling as much as it can, and officially become carbon neutral, to name but a few.
By his own admission, neither he nor the practice is perfect, and progress is ongoing and evolving. “We still have a normal boiler, and use gas for it. When we replaced it, I wanted to get an air sourced pump as it’s more renewable, but the cost difference at that time was just too much and I couldn’t do it.”
Sharing this, Berry emphasised that when it comes to sustainability, “what’s important is trying to be honest about the limitations of what you can do.”
Also important to Berry on his sustainability journey is running an ethical practice, which means looking at how you treat your staff – “being fair to them and paying a fair wage. It’s all of these other things,” he highlighted.
Practical steps to sustainability
Simon Berry Optometrist is officially carbon neutral, something that was important to the practice owner. But in going through the process, he realised that the labelling was “a bit of a con.”
In order to become carbon neutral, the practice was assessed on its energy usage – with gas usage low and electricity being supplied by a green energy supplier, it cost Berry around only £100 buying and planting trees to gain the credential. But, “if you look at it with common sense, my practice’s biggest carbon footprint is the products I stock, and this doesn’t count,” he said.
This set the wheels in motion for a project at the University of Durham, in which Berry asked whether an algorithm could be designed to tell the patient how many grams of carbon a frame contained. Berry admits, “working out the carbon footprint of a frame is incredibly complex.”
“It’s not just the travel costs, but the manufacturing costs and what it is made of, and all frames in a range are made of different things.”
While the project is still pending its report write up, he shared: “The dream would be that we were involved in a carbon offset project where we could say to the patient, ‘This frame costs £72 but if you pay £84 I can offset the carbon for you.’ That would be amazing for the patient.”
Sustainability in my practice came out of the desire to properly be able to tell the patient about the product and be proud of the product I was selling
For Berry, when sustainability is discussed, a large focus is placed on plastic, which he does not feel is the main issue for optics.
“Maybe controversially, I don’t think plastic is the issue in our industry,” he told OT. “You have a frame that lasts you two or three years that is 25g of plastic… the average person throws away 85g of plastic a day, most of which is packaging waste. This equates to 62kg over the two-year life span of a spectacle frame – 25g over two years is less than 0.1% of the average person’s plastic consumption and we probably shouldn’t be making a bit deal of saying we are using a recycled material for that 0.1%,” he explained.
When it comes to manufacturing in optics and what they can do to support sustainability, Berry believes the focus should instead be on “waste and reducing this,” labelling excess frame plastic and demo lenses as important areas.
“That’s the worrying thing about sustainability in our industry: manufacturers are focusing on recyclability and recycled products, rather than transparency in the manufacturing process – we are not hearing about carbon footprint and fair wage,” he said.
“Manufacturers have to buy their raw materials from somewhere, so they need to be asking questions too to ensure transparency across the whole product chain, not just their processes,” he added.
Today, Berry’s practice stocks 12 sustainable frame ranges – equating to 50% of the ranges it offers. “It’s part of the practice and its mindset – it’s what we stand for,” Berry shared. But he acknowledges that although transparency and honesty are important for the business, it also has to offer patients choice.
My career highlight
Saving the world
In Berry’s view, optics is not going to save the world. But he strongly believes in the wave that the industry can support through its touch points with consumers.
This is highlighted through a survey he did with his patients about what issues they care about, finding that 70% did not realise that sustainability was an issue in optics. “The point of doing this is that for that 70% of patients, you are pointing out that sustainability is an issue and they may then start to ask questions in other areas.”
“So as an industry we are not going to save the world, but if we can help support changing the attitudes of consumers and the way they use things, we can start to make a difference.”
Berry has learnt a lot over the last eight years when speaking to patients about sustainability and describes these conversations as complex and “it’s not just about stocking a recycled plastic frame.”
“We talk a lot about sustainability with patients, but we have to be really careful in these conversations,” Berry explains, noting that he can think of three specific patients off the top of his head who will not buy daily disposable contact lenses because they think they are less sustainable and as a result are making choices that put sustainability over their eye care and eye health.
As an industry we are not going to save the world, but if we can help support changing the attitudes of consumers and the way they use things, we can start to make a difference – the wave outwards
Berry believes that as an industry, ultimately, optics does not want sustainability as it cannot afford to embrace it and survive in its current guise. “We don’t want it because as an industry this means getting patients to reglaze frames and making that frame last four rather than two years. Our industry is ultimately going to have to change the way it is funded if we are going to truly be sustainable. It isn’t what we want as a business currently in order to survive.”
Speaking about the accolade, Berry shared: “It was a complete surprise and it’s amazing to receive the award.”
“This all started way back in 2015 when the questionnaire came out, which is really scary when I look back, as then no one was interested. It is really nice that eight years later people are starting to ask questions and pick up on the existence of the questionnaire and the importance of asking questions. The award means that people care about the issues and recognise it. It is a lovely award to be recognised for as I don’t think sustainability has done much in our industry so far.”
Simon Berry received the AOP’s Recognising sustainable excellence award at the AOP Excellence in eye care reception, headline sponsored by CooperVision and hosted on the Sunborn Yacht, London on 26 February.