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Environmental Sustainability Issues in the Veterinary Industry

Learn about the surprising benefits from an environmental sustainability policy.

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We’ve all been in those pharmacy law meetings. Sitting with hundreds of fellow veterinarians, we listen to all the new regulations we must follow to maintain our right to practice. Most of the time we end up saying to our colleague nearby, “Oh man, I didn’t know that. Did you?”

Starr Miller, RPh, DICVP, and Sue Duran, RPh, DICVP, Phd of Auburn University have the task of leading those meetings in Alabama. They provide a great service in an admirable fashion. But, they are keenly aware of the frustration felt by the practitioners they’re speaking to.

In a recent interview, they both agreed, “We know it’s aggravating to maintain compliance with the growing list of regulations. Still, understanding their role in protecting public health, veterinarians step up and do what’s necessary.”

When you add Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and EPA regulations, practicing veterinary medicine can make you feel like you’re walking through a minefield every day. 

Environmental Stability a Central Part of Veterinary Ethics

By browsing Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), we can see in section VIII the following principle:

“A veterinarian shall recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health.”

Concern for the environment fits into that ethical principle.

With that context in mind, we’ll turn our attention to some direct benefits to your practice of being proactive in environmental stability issues for veterinarians.

But first, let’s look at a definition and some facts to help us understand the connection to those benefits of “going green”.

Defining Environmental Sustainability

Environmental sustainability involves making decisions and taking actions that are in the interests of protecting the natural world, with particular emphasis on preserving the capability of the environment to support human life.

It’s amazing how a subject with such a simple definition brings on almost endless and significant implications. Run a simple Google search and you’ll find enough to overwhelm even the most conscientious among us.

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In a recent article on the AVMA website titled, “Options for integrating eco-friendly features into veterinary practices,” you’ll find no less than 21 links to everything from regulations to guidelines.

But, in the end it’s about two points:

  1. Making an effort to avoid wasting energy and reusable materials. 
  2. Taking steps to avoid contamination of the air, soil, and water.

Environmental Sustainability Facts

From the Environmental Sustainability Resource Center:

  • Buildings in the United States are responsible for 39 percent of our total energy consumption — 60 percent of our electricity alone.
  • Within 26 seconds after exposure to chemicals such as those found in cleaning products, traces of these chemicals can be found in every organ in the body.
  • If the energy efficiency of commercial and industrial buildings improved by 10 percent, the collected savings would be about $40 billion.
  • Renewable energy sources provide 34.2 percent of Denmark’s total capacity for electricity generation.
  • Organic farming requires 2.5 times more labor than conventional farming, but can bring in 10 times as much profit.
  • Using the sleep mode or power management feature on your computer can save you up to $30 per year on your electricity bill.

A Vet Practice’s Role in Environmental Sustainability

So how do veterinary practices impact the environment? Let’s break it down.

  1. Lots of issues are common to all small businesses.
  • Efficiency of heating and air conditioning systems
  • Judicious use of paper goods
  • Proper disposal of computers and photocopiers
  • Other waste disposal issues
  • Water conservation and health issues
  1. A huge issue for our profession is veterinary medicines in the environment.

As you can see from the graphic below, animals play a major role in soil and water contamination with pharmaceuticals. Obviously, as veterinarians we play a central role in the process.

There is increasing evidence that pharmaceuticals are present and are impacting on  marin and coastal environments.  

Veterinary Medicines in the Environment

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U.S. Geological Survey

Potential pathways for veterinary medicines in soil and water according to the USGS.

Tangible Benefits to Being Eco-Friendly

Veterinarians are smart people. We are generally practical, too. And 99.9% of us want to do the right thing and act wisely. No wonder we wince a little to a list of must-dos, which we could have figured out on our own.

However, we’re crazy busy people, too. We juggle a wide variety of responsibilities just doing our job of caring for clients, patients, and our co-workers. That’s a perfect scenario for overlooking simple, yet powerful steps we can take to improve our own profitability.

Here are some environmental stability examples to consider:

1. Save Energy, Save Money, Increase Profitability

  • Do you always power-off lab equipment when the front doors are closed?
  • Is your outdoor lighting on a timer or light sensitive control?
  • Are your HVAC filters replaced on a regular, energy-saving timetable?
  • Would an upgrade of an older HVAC unit save money over a reasonable time period?
  • Does your state offer low interest loans for energy saving upgrades? Many do.
  • Have older lighting fixtures/bulbs been replaced with energy-efficient products?
  • Ben Franklin was right when he said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” He would have enjoyed living in our day!

2. Improve long-term safety of clients, pets and employees.

  • Take steps to minimize the amount of pharmaceuticals getting into our water supply. Veterinarians can contribute significantly to the mitigation of this growing public health threat.
  • A recent Harvard Health Letter quotes, “Pharmaceutical pollution doesn’t seem to be harming humans yet, but disturbing clues from aquatic life suggest now is the time for preventive action.”
  • As veterinary professionals, we understand the process and the potential dangers of drugs seeping into our water supply.
  • We stand in a privileged position to contribute to the welfare of life on Earth. We can start with conscientious use and disposal of all medications used by our patients.
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3. Grow your practice by appealing to the “millennial” generation.

  • Marketers and advertisers are turning their attention more and more to the generation dubbed “millennials.” Their numbers now surpass that of “baby boomers."
  • The millennial generation is important to veterinary practices, too.
  • Millennials have been called the most  sustainability conscious generation yet.
  • An eco-friendly practice is attractive to millennials.
  • Publicize your commitment to environmental stability on social media, newsletters and blogs. Place a notification in the reception area explaining your environmental policy. Include any awards or recognitions you’ve received as a result of your eco-friendly actions.

One way to ease the pain of governmental regulations is to focus on the reality of immediate and long-term benefits you’ll see from a policy that supports environmental sustainability.

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