Building an ecofriendly practice

Renovations can also save costs
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Are you running a green veterinary clinic? Do you want to be? Don't hesitate because you think it's going to cost you money. In many cases, it doesn't, because initial costs are made up over the long run.

"There are many ways we can affect the environment and reduce our environmental footprints and, at the same time, save money," said Dr. Amy Krauss, a veterinarian with Noah's Animal Hospital in Indianapolis. In a July 19 convention session, she brought the environment to the forefront, had attendees reflect on what they do in their daily practice and how it affects the environment, and then discussed ways to minimize any negative impacts on the environment.

In building a greener practice, clinics should think about focusing on three issues: waste production and management, energy efficiency, and water efficiency.

One example of an ecofriendly technique is to replace incandescent floodlights with high-pressure sodium fixtures. This can slash a clinic's electricity bill by up to 75 percent, while increasing the amount of light. Replacing natural gas heaters with gas-fired radiant heaters in a warehouse can reduce fuel use by 30 percent. And if lighting and heating-cooling systems in a practice are more than 10 years old, a veterinarian could potentially see immense savings by upgrading them. Turning off the water heater when the office is closed and fixing leaks are other options.

Areas for potential upgrades in small animal practices—besides lighting, and heating and cooling—include building construction, office equipment, refrigeration, and water heaters or water use. "Lighting is the cheapest to upgrade," Dr. Krauss commented.

The session included discussion on the importance of discarding hazardous substances properly. These substances include drugs, pesticides, vaccines, laboratory reagents, radiographic supplies, anesthetics, many cleaning and disinfectant agents, batteries, and formaldehyde. Most unused or expired controlled drugs, for example, need to be disposed of through reverse distributors, with the exception of small amounts of schedule III to V drugs that can be flushed down the sink. Other hazardous materials should be discarded in accordance with their safety data information, which is provided with each product.

Dr. Krauss said that more than 50 percent of waste produced in veterinary hospitals is not hazardous, and veterinarians can make great strides in reducing this amount of waste. This can be addressed by including something as simple as using both sides of the paper when printing documents. Buying recycled products and recycling office paper products, glass, and aluminum are other options.

Veterinarians who want to run green practices should first educate themselves about the state, federal, and local health and safety environmental regulations. Then, they should look at all aspects of their veterinary practice and identify how much waste they produce, what kind of waste, and how to minimize it. Having an energy or water company conduct a practice audit is one way to accomplish this.

Developing a protocol for the office and getting staff involved is key. "At our practice, we have a waste management team, which I am head of," Dr. Krauss said. Veterinarians can then tout their program and advertise to their clients that they are committed to the environment. This will project a positive image to clients.

An excellent way to start in the quest to go green is to become a partner in a program called Energy Star for Small Businesses. This program is run through the Environmental Protection Agency.

Energy Star provides a range of technical advice, materials, and services that can assist veterinarians when they energy-upgrade certain areas of their practices. Individuals can join this program through a toll-free hotline, (888) STAR-YES, and an extensive Web site, Both resources also offer free engineering support, such as answers to questions, product information, and assistance with calculations. Through these resources, individuals can also request publications, brochures, and information that can be used to highlight their success story for customers and employees.

Some clinics may have more reasons to celebrate than others. In 2001, the Schmidt Veterinary Clinic in Cedarburg, Wis., won an award from the Energy Star program. This clinic was built in a converted grocery store and was based on many of the ecofriendly measures discussed by Dr. Krauss.

The 11,000-square-foot veterinary clinic had programmable thermostats, T8 fluorescent lamps with electronic ballasts, efficient water heater, light sensors, LED exit signs, and outdoor high-pressure sodium lights with photocells. The renovations were cost-effective, and the 5,143-kilowatt hours saved will prevent approximately 10,223 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

This is good news to individuals concerned about the environment. In 1997, industry dumped 1.5 billion metric tons of emissions into the atmosphere, and since 1980, carbon dioxide emissions jumped nearly 30 percent. Clearly, we must do better as a society.