Coleman Opticians sustainability journey

Katie Fenn, Director at Coleman Opticians discusses their sustainability journey.

What made you start the journey to greater sustainability?

Going ‘green’ and climate change are words that are used routinely today and recycling at home has been second nature to most of us for a little while now. It was whilst sorting that very recycling one day with my then 7 year old daughter who asked ‘Mummy who sorts your recycling at work?’ A very innocent question from one so young. I was completely taken aback, I genuinely hadn’t considered the practice! From that very pure question I started chatting to the team about things we could do in the practice. They say out of the mouths of babes don’t they?

What were your first steps?

We started with what we saw as some very easy wins; we introduced recycling bins everywhere we could, we felt the easier we made being able to recycle for everyone in the practice then the more effective it would be. We spoke to our local council to be included in the food waste collections locally. This means food waste can be collected in the staff room and picked up kerbside once a week. The emergence of a contact lens recycling scheme at about the same time as we were making these decisions gave us something to shout about on social media and talk to our patients about in practice. We shipped 8 boxes of recycled contact lenses last week…that one may have grown quicker than we anticipated!

We were also lucky enough to be given a grant from our local council through a scheme encouraging people to walk/jog/run/cycle/hop to work which allowed us to install a shower for our team to use on arrival at work. This has led to less of the team driving to the practice. It even encouraged us to take part in the London Marathon virtually last year as practice, each one of us completing 1 mile to make up the marathon distance. Not just good for the planet but good for mental health too, a very happy double bonus!

What challenges have you faced?

The biggest thing initially holding us back was getting everyone on board. There was a lot of the team that felt working within the optical industry then our small steps were going to make no real difference. Slowly and surely though everyone has come round to the way of thinking of doing something is better than doing nothing. It is a difficult message to begin with as sadly our industry does generate a lot of plastic waste; the dummy lenses alone amount to an incredible amount of rubbish heading to landfill. Dummy lenses are a particular challenge. We are a large practice and get through a lot of lenses. Before the pandemic we had been donating them to our local art college who had been using them for all sorts of things. Sadly since the pandemic we haven’t been able to find anywhere to send them. This hasn’t stopped us collecting them though and the whole team are constantly on the lookout for where we can send them to have them recycled.

What has worked really well?

One thing that we have only changed recently (and again I’m not sure why because I’ve been doing it at home for ages!) is where our toilet roll and paper towels are supplied from. They are now on a 3 monthly subscription from a company called Bumboo. Not only does this make us smile every time we read the name, as the name suggests they are made from bamboo and delivered carbon neutrally within mainland UK. Being on subscription also means we don’t run out an important thing with all the madness of 2020!

We have been absolutely blown away by patients, friends of patients, charity shop workers and lots of others bringing in contact lenses and the packaging to be recycled. A local charity shop has a number of recycling points and had really struggled with contact lenses, they now regularly bring in two/three bin bags full a week. One of the great things we have found is that lots of these ‘small wins’ are not just great for the planet but are also good for mental well being as well. The guys bringing in the lenses from the charity shop will often stop and have a chat with us which is win win all round.

What do you plan to do next to become even more sustainable?

Having listened to the recent See Summit and completed the questionnaire on the ABDO website we were a little shocked to only earn 40% and a bronze badge. We are now on a mission to improve this to at least silver. One big take away from the summit was that sustainability is a journey and something that needs to continually looked at, bitesize easy things, breaking it down and we will get there. With this in mind we have started asking our patients if they want a case with their spectacles? They are of course welcome to one but how many of us have hundreds of them tucked away in drawers?

Small steps with everyone involved and possibly a Christmas tree made with our recycled PPE are on the list for the next few weeks