Everyone knows how much waste occurs in the medical field. Waste, along with other environmental concerns, has been on my mind ever since I started to practice dentistry 20 years ago. Actually, it started before that, in a small rural community near Alma, Mich. I spent several springs picking up trash in various ditch banks after the snow melted — first along my own dirt road as a kid and then later along U.S. 127 as the initiator of Alma College’s Gamma Phi Beta Adopt-A-Highway volunteer program.
This early consciousness led me to be more proactive in my practice of dentistry. At my first job after dental school, I convinced my older colleagues to turn off the water while they brushed their teeth (saving about five gallons of water each time). I started the office recycling program and lugged the bottles and paper home each week to my curbside. My bosses liked the decrease in trash collection needs and the savings the practice gained because of our recycling program.
Later as a practice owner, I began to think about my workspace more consciously. I intentionally chose bamboo flooring — a renewable energy source that takes much less time to grow — to cover certain areas. I replaced old light fixtures with more energy efficient ones and I updated the water hogging toilets with more water efficient ones. Little by little, my workspace became greener.
In a more recent project and in a newer office, I considered my carbon footprint in the world. I work only a mile away from my home and I repurposed a former dental office into my new dental office. I could have built a brand-new building, but the former office’s plumbing and dental design would have gone to waste, and the amount of materials needed to build a new office would have required much higher energy usage and produced more waste. I can walk, bike or drive my hybrid car and feel really good about less carbon in the atmosphere because of my intentional choices. With this minimal commute, I am more likely to purchase an electric car in the future and fulfill my next dream: install solar options to heat my water and energize my car.
My new office has tile carpeting to lessen the waste of materials and it takes very little adhesive to secure it to the floor. This produces less off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during and after the installation. No to low VOC paint was used to minimize the air pollution in the process. And, I learned that there is a no VOC varnish material that can be used to apply to wood for sealing purposes, known as ECOS WoodShield Varnish.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) specialists are very helpful, too. It’s a rating system created in the 90s by the U.S. Green Building Council to help builders and remodelers evaluate the environmental performance of a building. It also helps others move toward a more sustainable design in the early phases of development.
Every little thing we do to conserve energy and produce less waste is helpful for the next generation. If we take care of what is around us, we are actually taking care of our bodies. What could be more important than our health? This way of thinking guides me with my business decisions and with my professional patient care decisions as a dentist. As Steven Covey said in The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, “Begin with the end in mind.” If we want a healthy body, then we have to start with a healthy environment.
I challenge you to get out in the ditch banks and clean up the trash this spring, or construct a sustainable building, or start an office recycling program. Be eco-chic and use these shared techniques for your next project.