Simple ways to improve sustainability in veterinary medicine


You should know, while writing this I have a dog at my feet. 

How can we make the medical care for animals more sustainable? 

“I wanted to ask you about doing a consult at my clinic. We use a lot of single use plastics for medical stuff, but maybe you will have other ideas for us?”

Yes. Absolutely. They key to making it work at the clinic level is pushing out simple and cost-effective initiatives. 

What is sustainability?

Humans and their actions have a direct impact on the planet. Everything we do can deplete resources, add to the emissions heating up the planet, harm society and our community, and ultimately contribute to the problem of climate change and social impact. 

Sustainability – according to the UN World Commission on Environment and Development – means, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

This can mean environmental impacts (like emissions, waste, water usage), and it can mean social impact (like paying living wages, and including diversity and inclusion into policies). 

11 ways veterinary medicine can get more sustainable?

Some good news to start: veterinary clinics on average have a smaller footprint than human healthcare clinics. 

What can an individual vet practice do to be more sustainable in a simple and profitable way? The main answer is limiting clinic waste through better resource management. 

  1. Cleaning products, medical supplies, food for pets, and the related packaging can all be a target of a sustainability initiative or strategy. Recycled or biodegradable options are best. Think: recycle, reduce, reuse – like at home – but in clinic. 
  2. What is in your waste disposal or garbage can – in both the exam room and in the surgery room? Write everything down. Then, get creative: how can you reduce the demand for disposable items? How can you reduce this waste? 
  3. How can you reduce water in bottles with distilled alternatives (for autoclaving)? 
  4. Could you request exam or surgical kits that only contain items needed? Exam gloves always needed? Greener dental kits possible?
  5. Can you use refillable containers rather than disposable (i.e.: reusable sharp containers)? Can medicine come without a dispensing bag, or in a paper bag instead? Can clients bring their medicine bottles for refills?  Can you clean and reuse vaccine vials? Repurpose fluid bags as booties to keep bandages dry. 
  6. Get rid of paper-based systems at your Reception desk. “Do you really need to print this?” Get digital for record keeping. If you can’t, print double-sided which will save you money too. Bonus. 
  7. Could you wash textiles (incontinence pads, mats, blankets, scrub hats?) What can you swop out that doesn’t impact the sanitary requirements of the clinic? 
  8. Recycling of items like paper, cardboard, metal, and glass must be easy. Labelling with clear signage on bins will help the veterinary clinic staff get things into the right places. Then just organize pickup with the proper channels. Use recycled paper. Shredded paper can go into the compost. Even recycle and use recycled items in the staff room and washrooms. 
  9. Reduce greenhouse gases. Use low flow anesthesia, when possible. Also, tracking emissions – from staff driving to the clinic, to emissions from anesthesia – can give you a benchmark to try to beat in your next quarter of operations. There are calculators that can give you an accurate estimate of the emissions from driving to and from work, and can estimate the carbon emissions from veterinary medicine too. Either offsetting these emissions, or targeting reduction (through reduced travel, public transit, carpooling, or electric vehicles) can move the needle towards zero emissions. Another example is reducing fresh gas flow and finding alternatives to inhaled medicine. 
  10. Social impact. Have policies that lay out how you treat and pay employees. Create a diversity and inclusion policy. Track employees to ensure that the inside of your animal hospital looks like the outside community it serves. Donate! 
  11. Tracking (aka governance) creates ownership and enforces ethics. Have a document that you visit monthly, and monitor your waste, emissions, and policies. Create rules that better the practice and make happy animal parents. 
Like these sustainable ideas but don’t have time to action them at your animal hospital? We can call your suppliers, swop out resources, and even create simple policies and plans for you and your team. That’s what ThisRock is here for. Reach out – we’d love to coach or consult for your clinic. 

More great information can be found on the Banfield Pet Hospital Exchange website and on the PetsApp website. We also found this article helpful from AMVA

Thanks for reading and learning along with us. Rolling up our sleeves alongside you. 

~Team ThisRock