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Sustainable dentistry – A win-win approach
Is your practice a ‘Good Citizen’? Do your practice policies take into account the principles of sustainable or green business, by minimising any negative impact the global or local environment, and by contributing to the community, society and economy?
Our responsibility as healthcare professionals is matched by our responsibilities as citizens to strive to meet the triple bottom line (3BL) objectives, embracing social, environmental and financial best practice. The current regulatory frameworks governed by the GDC and CQC define the need to put patients’ interests first and, in defining how to do this, we must not lose sight of the importance of developing sustainable services that are mindful of the global environment.
Often, sustainable businesses have progressive environmental and human rights policies and they operate policies which balance the needs of their purchasers and providers. CQC regulations set out a framework for the welfare of the dental team (Regulation 18) and often, sustainable businesses thrive due to their person-centred values which aim for profit with integrity.
The global dental community numbers consists of than one million dentists worldwide. The FDI is the world’s Dental Federation, promoting an international vision of optimal oral health and acknowledging that oral health is a fundamental part of general health and wellbeing. They would like to see the development of policies and strategies to support effective and sustainable 'green dentistry' initiatives.
This vision derives from evidence and experience that demonstrates that health and sustainable development are closely linked and they believe that the profession needs to address the rising trend of lifestyle‐related diseases in the context of sustainable development, before it is too late. This leads the way to an interdisciplinary, whole-person, patient-care approach, in which dental teams and other healthcare professionals work with patients towards dental and general health gains.
Research carried out by Creating Solutions for A Cracking Earth Initiative, with Plymouth University revealed that the average dental practice produces over 1,600kg of clinical waste per year. They found that the most common items of waste are:
- Tissues 33%
- Gloves 26%
- Sterile wrapping 11%
Equating to 34kg of CO2 per year
The initiative also identified that a significant amount of non-clinical waste was disposed of ‘inappropriately’ including sterile wrapping, which is recyclable (~5kg per week). This produces the equivalent of 3.7kg CO2 per year and £633 pa, which equates to £2.32m and 13.7 metric tons of CO2 across England.
Researchers concluded there is limited priority given to sustainability in dentistry due to:
- Lack of knowledge and awareness
- Few drivers to influence change
- Various perceived risks and barriers in terms of safety, compliance and best practice
- Hassle factor – e.g. time, costs, practical implications
They concluded that environmental sustainability is not taken in to consideration in the usage of dental materials, and that the introduction of simple measures (e.g. training and segregation) can lead to reduction in clinical waste, lower carbon emissions and reduced costs. Waste has never been conducive to good environmental management.
Financial sustainability is achieved when a business is able to deliver products and services to the market at a price that covers their expenses and generates a profit. In financially sustainable businesses, long-term profitability takes priority over any short-term gains.
Practices aiming to achieve this will need to:
- Embed sustainable development into account within its policies, plans and decisions
- Encourage its people to work in an environmentally responsible manner and contribute to developing environmentally aware working practices
- Encourage visitors and patients to take responsible action in terms of environmentally sustainable best practice
- Minimise its consumption of natural resources
- Reduce carbon emissions where possible, such as using low energy ways in which to interact with its partners
- Choose sustainable goods and services
Environmental awareness and recycling are no longer regarded as ‘green hippy’ eccentricities – they are now firmly embedded in the moral fiber of the nation. We can be sure that service users notice what we do to meet our environmental responsibilities, and make their judgements on that basis.
Glenys Bridges – QCS Expert Dental Contributor