Focus On: Green Dentistry

Lisa Knowles, DDS

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Lisa Knowles, DDS, shares how to create eco-ambiance in the dental office.

Q: Why would anyone want to create eco-ambiance in a dental office? 

A: Let’s discuss 2 main reasons. The first reason speaks to a number of people in the United States who are concerned about creating a sustainable planet. According to a report published in 2017 by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, the number of Americans “very worried about global warming” is at a record high. These kinds of beliefs are spurring people to consider their personal impacts on the environment. I fall into this category. I read a lot about the environmental impacts of industries on our Earth. Healthcare choices, mandates, and policies force us to create our fair share of waste. To meet OSHA standards, for example, we generate tons of medical waste that contributes to our landfill usage—from sharps container waste to billions of personal safety disposables like gloves and masks. 

We have to create some waste. But, there are ways to reduce our optional waste within our work environments. 

There are several categories (with examples) I recommend for consideration when trying to be more eco-friendly: 

1. Office Design

Start with ways to save costs on electricity and water usage. By learning more about Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) practices, any office can become more energy conscious. A new build or a remodel can incorporate best practices to enhance an eco design. 

2. Dental Materials Selection

Patients want safe dental products in their mouths. Stay abreast of hot topics like BPA in composites and amalgam alternatives. Even though we may feel certain products are safe and pass our evidence-based standards, there are patients who want other options. At the very least, they want someone to explain their risks with our dental materials.  

3. Daily Use Product Selection

Choose less plastic when possible. Incorporate things like bamboo utensils and biodegradable cups in a team eating area. Encourage the team to pack a lunch instead of increasing landfill waste with fast food wrappers and containers. Use more cloth towels and washcloths instead of paper towels. Buy laundry detergents with no phosphates to help prevent algal blooms downstream from our offices. 

4. Consumption Habits

Do we have to buy it new? Can we reupholster chairs? Can we give our older chairs to a new dentist starting out? Do we need new scrubs every year, or can we use them for 2 years or more? New products require a lot of energy to create. 

5. Reconsider Freebie Give Outs

Offer bamboo toothbrushes and silk floss for patients. Skip the plastic bags and use paper bags with stamped logos or don’t even offer a bag. Many of my eco-conscious patients decline the bag. 

6. Encourage a Reduce, Re-use, Recycle Culture

Make it easy for people to recycle paper products. Have recycle bins strategically located to remind team members to recycle first before throwing anything away into the trash. Put one in the bathroom, too!

The second reason for creating  eco-ambiance in the dental office focuses on the business benefits of creating such an atmosphere. There are financial benefits for pursuing a target market that buys into sustainability and living more Earth-friendly. Let’s consider Whole Foods Market shoppers. According to a consumer analysis of Whole Foods Market in the International Journal of Latest Engineering and Management Research, Whole Foods Market chose a specific target market to offer groceries and goods. “‘People who bought organic foods in last 6 months: 55% are age 25 to 54, 60% are at least graduates, and 53% have income over $50,000.’ The primary target market is men and women aged 22 to 40 (more women), who care about the sustainability of the earth and prefer all-natural products.” Since 1980, Whole Foods Market increased its number of stores from one to 340. It was sold to Amazon for $13.7 billion in 2017. The eco-shoppers are out there, and they believe in a lifestyle that demands a softer footprint on the earth. 

This type of shopping and trust in a grocery store is another reason, I believe, Whole Foods Market faired so well. In the analysis, the process for product selection is explained: “While procuring, the company checks for the authenticity of their suppliers for the raw or the finished products that they procure from. The products go through a strict quality check and then find their way in the Whole Foods Market store.”

In other words, the consumers learn to trust that Whole Foods Market is providing a first line of defense for them when trying to eat organic foods and purchase foods with fewer additives and preservatives. A dental office with an eco-flair can do the same thing. The patients are comforted to know their dental space is less wasteful than others, is screening products for healthier options, and is also choosing to a support a lifestyle that is more conscious—like them. Time is precious, and if someone can help sift out purchase options, it’s helpful for consumers.

As we consider our business strategies in the years to come, it may be wise to incorporate an eco-ambiance into your environment. 

CLOSING COMMENTS

Currently, we have to create some waste, but that may not always be the case if more affordable options become available. There is a process right now by TerraCycle to freeze used gloves, decontaminate them, and repurpose them. TerraCycle is a company that helps us recycle almost everything. Yes, it comes with a price, but so does landfill usage and expensive clean-up activities after environmental disasters.

The choices are ours to make with how we want our dental settings to look and feel in the future. The patients will make their choices, too. Many will want an eco-option. Will your space be green enough with the best eco-dental ambiance?  

Dr. Knowles received her degree from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and has been in practice for 20 years. Before opening her practice, Dr. Knowles created her speaking, writing, and consulting business, IntentionalDental Consulting. She speaks and writes to dental professionals around the globe about leadership, overall body health and wellness, and eco-conscious dentistry. She is a Board of Trustees member for the Michigan Dental Association and is on the ADA Council for Government Affairs. She can be reached at intentionaldental@gmail.com.

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