Faced with ever-changing patient expectations and the unexpected challenges brought on by COVID-19, many eye care professionals are seeking innovative ways to differentiate their practices. Products and services, technology and patient experience—there are many factors to consider in making your practice stand out from the rest. Do you consider sustainability? Research shows you should.

A 2020 survey by The Recycling Partnership  revealed that 70% of Americans would go out of their way to support a company that makes strong efforts to be sustainable. And sustainability is becoming a higher priority, as 78% of consumers are more conscious of supporting green/sustainable companies versus five years ago.

For an eye care practice, what does it mean to be sustainable? And how do you appeal to patients who prioritize sustainability in their decisions? The good news is that sustainability is a scalable effort; whether changes are small or grand—or somewhere in between—they can make an impact.

In this series, we’ll highlight three doctors who see value in sustainability, yet take different approaches to how they incorporate it into their practices. First, we’ll hear from Katie Greiner, OD, of Northeast Ohio Eye Surgeons in Kent, Ohio, about how sustainability has transformed the way she talks about contact lenses with her patients.

Dr. Greiner was one of 20 eye care professionals invited in 2019 to CooperVision’s 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Alajuela, Costa Rica to see the company’s commitment to making a positive impact on the environment and operating more sustainably, and to collaborate with their peers about sustainability in eye care. The three-day clariti® 1 day experience provided a behind-the-scenes look into how CooperVision combines state-of-the-art manufacturing with sustainability to bring the lenses to wearers around the world.

“Before my experience in Costa Rica, I was naïve to what companies like CooperVision are doing. I didn’t know the process of manufacturing contact lenses could be as sustainable as it is,” said Dr. Greiner.

CooperVision’s Costa Rica facility holds the prestigious LEED® Silver certification for its environmentally conscious design and operation, which includes a high-efficiency lighting system using natural light, a vegetable oil-powered main transformer, and rainwater collection tanks. In addition, more than 95% of materials used in production—including 100% of the plastic generated—are recycled, and more than 95% of the plant’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

“I wish every doctor could witness the process in person,” said Dr. Greiner. “I watched rainwater being collected for use in the plumbing systems. You could see sustainability in front of your eyes. I love to tell patients about that experience; it’s a fun way to make a connection for them to the clariti® 1 day lens.”

Northeast Ohio Eye Surgeons is located in an environmentally conscious community, as one of its offices is in close proximity to Kent State University. Sustainability strongly resonates with their patient base, so for years the practice has implemented contact lens and general recycling at its offices. But following Dr. Greiner’s participation in the clariti® 1 day experience, the practice was inspired to step it up.

Now, patient education about recycling of contact lenses and packaging is built into every eye exam. Upon opening trial contact lenses, Dr. Greiner shows the patient how the materials are recycled, and there are small bins for collection throughout the office. The practice also provides contact lens patients with small recycling containers to take home and bring back at their convenience; there is a large contact lens recycling bin in the waiting room for them to put in what they have collected.

“We have patients who bring back an entire year’s supply of contact lenses and blisters for recycling. Our bins always seem to be overflowing,” she said.

Many of the practice’s contact lens patients take advantage of the program.

“My role as a clinician is to prescribe what I determine is the best option for my patients—and to help them succeed in that choice. By prescribing clariti® 1 day, I know my patients get a comfortable and breathable lens—one they will replace daily—all at a price point that is comparable to a hydrogel lens. I’m giving them a significantly better product (than a hydrogel) at a similar price, so it really is a no-brainer,” said Dr. Greiner.

Given that sustainability is a priority for so many patients at Northeast Ohio Eye Surgeons, Dr. Greiner likes to reassure them that clariti® 1 day is good not only for their eyes, but also the planet.

“I tell my patients that of all the options for 1-day lenses, clariti® 1 day is more near and dear to me because of their sustainability efforts,” she said. “Since they buy 365 pairs each year, CooperVision makes them as sustainably as possible.”

The focus on sustainability has been beneficial to the practice in deepening its connection to patients—as well as the team’s morale.

“You always want to have things for your staff and patients to rally around,” added Dr. Greiner. “You collect donations and you coordinate volunteer opportunities, but those things come and go. Sustainability is a constant; it’s an effort that is only growing stronger year after year.”

Dr. Greiner believes that sustainability is only becoming even more important to patients, so eye care practices need to get on board—or get left behind.

“Operating your practice sustainably is the way of the future. And if we’re not looking forward, we’re going to get ourselves in trouble,” she said. “Most optometrists are striving to get as many patients in 1-day lenses as possible, and we need to think about the environmental factor. Collectively, an eye care professional has the power to influence thousands of people in these decisions each year. You can make a huge impact, so don’t waste the opportunity.”

† With higher oxygen permeability than hydrogel materials, silicone hydrogel contact lenses minimize or eliminate hypoxia-related signs and symptoms during lens wear.

1. Brennan NA: Beyond Flux: Total Corneal Oxygen Consumption as an Index of Corneal Oxygenation During Contact Lens Wear. Optom Vis Sci 2005

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