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Environmentally Responsible Practices in Veterinary Hospitals

I'm a pet parent and a tree hugger!  I want my pets to have the best medical treatment, but I don't want to hurt the planet while I'm helping them live long and happy lives.

11/18/20

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I want to feed my pets food that has sustainable proteins!

It's important to me that I eat local and seasonal foods as much as possible (and I'm trying to eat less animal products).  Now there's hope I can help my pets live a healthy, more sustainable lifestyle, too!

11/15/20

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Informative article showing "pets can help seniors stay happy and healthy."

We pet parents already know the benefits of having furry-family members:  I wouldn't be nearly as active without my dogs or as content when my cats snuggle with me on the couch.  It's nice to see proof, especially for those seniors in our lives.

11/10/20

Why We Need Environmentally Responsible Practices in Veterinary Hospitals

By Jacquie Hilterman, Dogwood Consulting Founder

November 18, 2020

I have two dogs and two cats that share my house and turn it into a home.  Studies show that we “pet people” consider our four-legged friends to be irreplaceable members of our families now more than ever before (Today’s Veterinary Business 2019).  While I want my family to have the best medical treatment, I don't want to hurt the planet while I take care of them.  

Unfortunately, veterinary hospitals contribute to environmental degradation - they use a lot of energy to power equipment; they use a lot of toxic chemicals and water; and they generate a significant amount of waste, all of which leads to considerable greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Ironically, the medical field, which is charged with “doing no harm,”
actually detrimentally contributes to the environment while providing
necessary health services to the public.
 
This is also true in the veterinary field.

According to a 2019 opinion published in the Journal of American Medical Association "the U.S. healthcare system contributes 10% of the nation's carbon emissions" and "its rate of greenhouse gas emissions increased 30% between 2006 and 2016" (Sherman 2019).  Because GHG emissions from human activities is the most significant driver of climate change, this puts human healthcare in the tenuous position of not only handling the significant increase of illnesses caused by pollution and climate change, but also needing to mitigate its own contributions to the problem.  A team of German scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research recently published an article where they stated "climate change and medicine are inextricably linked, with rising global temperatures associated with everything from the spread of infectious diseases to the impact of dangerous weather events" (Gabbatiss 2019).

 

The same issue is found in veterinary medicine:  while trying to provide the best medical treatment for their clients' pets, veterinary clinics are actually contributing to climate change which is causing harm in their patients.  For example, more cases of diseases like heartworm, Lyme, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are being diagnosed in pets due to the rising temperatures that are a result of climate change.  This increase in cases is caused because the geographic ranges of these diseases are spreading and because there are more warmer months per year when pets can be affected (Weise 2019).

 

Specific strategies can help veterinary hospitals become more environmentally-conscious, like reducing waste across product streams, minimizing energy consumption, and using an environmental procurement policy to source better products.  Similarly, improving staff retention and employee morale are important to helping veterinary clinics run more efficiently as this field has particularly high employee turnover and burnout.  Deployment of sustainable solutions within veterinary hospitals are complex and context specific.  Planning and implementing long-lasting sustainability solutions requires collaboration across departments.  Successful solutions must be tailored to your hospital’s current practices, goals, and must mobilize talent throughout your business.

According to a 2020 Forbes article,
“Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025 and they are
looking for socially responsible employers.”  - Afdhel Aziz

Veterinary hospitals can be part of the solution!  The human healthcare sector has an organization championing social and environmental justice called Practice Greenhealth.  They offer education, data, and resources like a Greenhouse Gas Reduction toolkit, Greening the Operating Room checklist, and a sustainable procurement guide for their members.  Much of the information and many of the tools can be translated into veterinary medicine for impactful and timely results.  Their 2019 benchmark data show that member hospitals saved $68 million on sustainability initiatives and diverted 146,750 tons of waste from the landfill (Practice Greenhealth). 

Now is the time that owners, pet care providers, and clinicians come together to take action to transform the industry, so that short term care is paired with long term thinking.  Our futures depend on it!

About the Author


Jacquie earned two Master's degrees and started her career with non-profit organizations that protected the ocean.  After a decade and a move to the midwest, she reinvented herself as a veterinary technician and recognized the untapped niche of incorporating environmentally-aligned and socially-just business practices into the veterinary field.  Her family includes a human partner plus two high-energy dogs and two not-so-high-energy cats, all of whom are happily settling into their new home in Colorado.

References:

  • Sherman, MD, Jodi, Andrea MacNeill, MD, and Cassandra Theil, MD. “Reducing Pollution from the Health Care Industry.” JAMA 322, no. 11 (2019): 1043–44.

 

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