How important is environmental sustainability to your veterinary hospital?
Don't know what environmental sustainability is? According to Small Biz Connect:
“Environmental sustainability involves making decisions and taking action 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 is an important topic at the present time, as people are realizing the full impact that businesses and individuals can have on the environment.”
It’s better not to delay in becoming more environmentally friendly. Delays may be causing considerable erosion of the bottom line.
There are more than enough issues in our profession these days to capture our attention. But don’t allow that to overshadow potential benefits of “going green.”
Need some motivation? Want to know where to begin? Take a look at what you can learn from interviews with leaders of Dove Lewis Emergency Hospital of Portland, Ore. and Two Rivers Veterinary Hospital in Wells Fargo, N.D.
The following are insightful answers to interview questions provided by Ron Morgan, president and CEO of Dove Lewis Emergency Hospital.
Q. When did you decide to “go green”?
Morgan: Recognizing the crucial need to care for the environment and conserve resources, [we] kicked-off our commitment to sustainability in 2003 during the design of our new hospital, which was completed in 2006. By building sustainability into our state-of-the-art hospital from the beginning, it allowed us to grow our commitment over time.
Q. What were your primary motivations?
Morgan: As an organization committed to the care of pets and supporting the pet-loving community, it was a natural fit (for us) to extend our mission of support to the environment. We saw an opportunity for beneficial, positive change in the community by practicing and promoting sustainability practices.
Q: Where did you learn the steps to becoming environmentally sustainable?
Morgan: In order to determine how to best reduce carbon emissions and become more environmentally friendly, [we] consulted a wide range of resources. Reaching out to other organizations that had already made strides toward sustainability was a key part of our strategy. Through dialogue, we learned a great deal about successes and even failures from organizations going green. There are also several online resources available, and your local city may even offer resources and advisors to help you get started. Our own staff had brilliant ideas and lessons of their own to share. Internal and external sources together helped guide us toward environmentally sound decision making.
Q: Who has the overall responsibility for maintaining sustainability?
Morgan: Every employee is tasked with maintaining the sustainability policy established by our hospital. Our Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital Green Team consists of direct patient care professionals as well as business and programs staff. Our Green Team members are volunteer employees, who review and improve upon green policies on a quarterly basis. They work on continually improving sustainability practices while providing ongoing sustainability education and training for employees.
Q: Were the initial expenses a) high, b) moderate or c) low?
Morgan: Our initial expenses were low to moderate. We chose to start our sustainability efforts with a mix of building materials approved by Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO). By investing in energy-efficient equipment, lighting and mechanical systems, we planned to realize a cost savings that could/would allow us to invest in additional sustainability actions resulting in even more cost savings. For example, the ETO provided $30k of incentive money to use sustainable light fixtures throughout the building. The money saved was then used to fund economizers for our rooftop air conditioning units, which, at the time, were not required by building codes.
Q: What have been the benefits for: a) the hospital staff; b) clients; c) patients; d) the community; e) practice growth; f) other benefits?
- Hospital Staff: The staff benefits from a positive, collaborative working environment, which improves morale. Our overall commitment to sustainability is impactful for our staff, especially our efforts that directly benefit our employees such as our focus on alternative transportation. Our employees’ pride in where they work increases.
The Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) call upon veterinarians to “recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health.” With our commitment to sustainability, our doctors don’t have to struggle ethically with this principle, including the environmental concerns that go along with it. We are able to remove this as a potential added source of stress from them. Knowing the hospital they work for will support them in the principles they must personally follow is invaluable toward morale and organizational culture.
- Clients: Knowing Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital is committed to both the advanced emergency care of their pets and the environment; our clients have increased confidence in us. They can trust us as a hospital with strong ethics and values.
- Patients: Patients benefit [in] a hospital environment where efficiency is improved and staff relations are heightened.
- Community: Outside (our hospital), the community gets an added boost for green business through our attention on partnerships that are good for the environment and the people in our community. This reinforces the demand for green products and strengthens sustainability practices in business.
- Practice Growth: With the combined benefits to staff, clients, patients and the community, our sustainability efforts have contributed to our growth. By achieving sustainability certification, we have been able to talk to our community about this with credibility, which has attracted the attention of clients who value environmentally friendly businesses.
- Other Benefits: We have found that employees, especially millennials, are happier when working at clinics that have values that align with their personal values. This has helped our ability to recruit and maintain highly qualified staff. We inform potential recruits of our sustainability commitment letting them know that we care about the environment as an organization, just as they do personally.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
Morgan: As an accredited teaching hospital providing local on-site training as well as online training and education for veterinary professionals worldwide through atdove.org, we feel a responsibility to be a leader in our industry in as many aspects as possible — and leading by example is paramount. We look forward to creating sustainability information for clinics in 2016 and to help others work toward a better environment.
Within our hospital, we are currently investigating new avenues of energy conservation including solar panels. LED lighting is another major interest we are considering, particularly as the costs to convert continue to fall.
Q: Has your hospital received special recognition for your efforts?
Morgan: Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital first achieved Silver Certification through the City of Portland’s Sustainability at Work in 2012. As a result of increased sustainability efforts in 2015 (our hospital) achieved Gold Certification through the same program. This program offers three-year certification, recognizing our outstanding efforts to benefit the economy, community and environment.
Q: What would you say to another veterinary practice that is considering becoming environmentally sustainable?
Morgan: Get started now by making changes where you can. Even small changes will lead to thinking bigger and making larger sustainability goals. For example, we started with motion detectors to control a room’s lighting. We then split the light switches in two so only half of a room’s lights would be turned on at any given time, which even further reduced the amount of electricity used. This lighting control design is used in all rooms and open areas of our facility. Sustainability such as this actually reduces costs and fosters well-being for patients, people and the planet. Your staff and patients will benefit, your clients will appreciate it, and it will be good for business as well as the planet.
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How Two Rivers Animal Hospital Went Green
Kim Knutson, LVT/Practice Manager at Two Rivers Animal Hospital in Wells Fargo, N.D. listed the following for how her hospital went green:
- The clinic was built in 2011 and it was decided to be as green as possible when it was opened.
- All of the computers and appliances that were purchased were Energy Star.
- We all make an effort to recycle everything we can and not print unnecessary items as to not waste paper.
- We buy natural/green cleaners.
The hospital located makes visitors to their website aware of their efforts toward environmental stability. There is a webpage dedicated to the environmental community.
Actions listed there include:
- Installation of programmable thermostats and a dual HVAC system to decrease energy consumption after hours and in lesser-used areas of the hospital.
- Use of motion-sensitive light switches in public restrooms and the installation of energy efficient LED light bulbs where possible.
- Energy Star computer monitors in use throughout the hospital.
While taking actions to be environmentally sustainable is part of meeting ethical standards, veterinary practices reap significant other benefits as well.
Gateway to State Resource Locators is a handy website for practical information. There you can access information about your particular state’s resources for various environmental issues, including rebates and financial assistance.
For a range of more information, check out these sites: