Blog and News
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.
Why We Need Socially Responsible Practices in Veterinary Hospitals
By Jacquie Hilterman, Dogwood Consulting Founder
February 27, 2021
Most of us go into the veterinary profession because we love animals and want to help them. We are often empathetic, efficient, and strong. We know the importance of working together: celebrating our successes, mourning our losses, and supporting each other through the ups and downs of life in a veterinary hospital. We pour our heart, mind, and tears into our jobs to ensure every patient receives the best medical treatment and every client knows we value their pet as if he or she were our own. Social responsibility is what every veterinary hospital should be striving for: individuals cooperating for the benefit of their clients and pets.
Social responsibility in business includes responsibility to all stakeholders and is one of the three pillars encompassed within sustainability–environmental and economic responsibility being the other two pillars. This article highlights how incorporating sustainability strategies produces positive outcomes for veterinary hospitals relating to both their clients and their employees. It also explains why these client and employee groups are increasingly interested in supporting businesses committed to sustainability.
According to the BBC, there has been a dramatic rise in consumers making more
These two pups aren't part of my family; a friend fostered them and I had to share their cuteness (thanks, Christine)!
environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases since the COVID-19 pandemic (Latham 2021). Even prior to the pandemic, Nielsen’s 2015 Global Corporate Sustainability Report stated that two-thirds of global “consumers are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. Millennials gave an even more impressive showing, with 73% … indicating a similar preference” (Landrum 2017). Sales for veterinary care in the US are strong and are projected to continue to increase; in 2019, veterinary care sales were reported as $29.3 billion and are estimated to be $30.2B in 2020 (APPA n.d.). Further, the APPA reported that “millennials continue to be the largest pet-owning demographic” and are largely responsible for the increase in veterinary care spending because “this generation is willing to pay more for quality products and services to improve the health and well-being of their pets.” (Today’s Veterinary Business 2019).
Two-thirds of global consumers are “willing to spend more on a product
if it comes from a sustainable brand.” - Nielsen Report
Sustainability and social responsibility efforts also play a role with the stakeholder group who are employees. Veterinary hospitals often struggle with attracting quality candidates, low employee morale, high turnover, and burnout. Most veterinary technicians work in the field only seven years before they leave the profession entirely and the number of technicians who leave the field is greater than the number who graduate to join the profession (Ruiz 2019). The average turnover in vet hospitals was 21% in 2016, higher than the average worldwide turnover of 11% in 2017, and there’s an “undercurrent of toxic culture” in the industry (Spickard 2020). The cost to hire and train a new employee is 50-75% of the annual salary for that position (Boatright 2019). Although sustainability is not a magic wand, there are studies showing that businesses who are socially and environmentally responsible, who know their values and authentically align their actions to those values have happier, more engaged employees. For example, purpose-driven companies (those who are doing “business as a force for good”) had 40% higher retention than their competitors (Aziz 2020). Millennials, who will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, are looking for socially responsible employers and Gen Z wants “their employer’s values to match their values” (Aziz 2020). A 2015 literature review published by Arabesque Partners stated that nearly 90% of the academic studies demonstrated sound ESG (environmental, social, and governance) practices resulted in better employee performance (Clark 2015).
An integral part of every sustainability solution is that it must reflect
your hospital’s actual culture: it must be authentic.
How do we translate all of these data points into specific actions for veterinary hospitals? Incorporating sustainability strategies allows the practice to run more efficiently with less energy consumption and less waste produced, which is attractive to both the largest pet-owning demographic and a large employee workforce group. Ideas on the social side of the sustainability spectrum that appeal to clients and employees alike include setting up a charitable giving campaign; participating in community events; or making a memorial donation to a non-profit when a client’s pet dies and sending them a sympathy card. A few approaches to help employees feel valued include increasing the hospital’s flexibility to work with employees’ schedules; offering benefits to part-time employees; or setting up a matching funds program to support their charitable donations. Supporting a robust professional development program and utilizing an Employee Assistance Program can be vitally important to employees’ well-being in this stressful field.
An integral part of every sustainability solution is that it must reflect your hospital’s actual culture: sustainability must be authentic to be successful. Implementing socially responsible practices offers a way for the business to demonstrate that it values its clients, employees, and greater society. Social responsibility is about “doing better” for people and the bottom line.
About the Author
Jacquie earned two Master's degrees and started her career with non-profit organizations that helped protect the ocean through research and education. 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. She is a Sustainability Excellence Associate, member of the International Society for Sustainability Professionals, and a Climate Reality Leader. 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.
APPA American Pet Products Association. “Pet Industry Market Size and Ownership Statistics.” Accessed February 9, 2021. https://www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp.
Aziz, Afdhel. “The Power of Purpose: The Business Case for Purpose (All the Data You Were Looking For),” March 7, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/afdhelaziz/2020/03/07/the-power-of-purpose-the-business-case-for-purpose-all-the-data-you-were-looking-for-pt-2/#bb18df23cf7a.
Boatright VMD, Kate. “How to Retain Valued Employees.” Today’s Veterinary Practice, October 2019. https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/how-to-retain-valued-employees/.
Clark, Gordon L, Andreas Feiner, and Michael Viehs. “From the Stockholder to the Stakeholder: How Sustainability Can Drive Financial Outperformance.” University of Oxford and Arabesque Partners, March 2015.
Latham, Katherine. “Has Coronavirus Made Us More Ethical Consumers?” BBC News Business, January 14, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55630144.
Landrum, Sarah. “Millennials Driving Brands to Practice Socially Responsible Marketing.” How millennials can be happier at work. Forbes, March 17, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahlandrum/2017/03/17/millennials-driving-brands-to-practice-socially-responsible-marketing/?sh=2d0b5b254990.
Ruiz, Pablo Perez. “Current Trends in Veterinary Medicine: A Closer Look at Large-Group Consolidation.” National Veterinary Professionals Union, May 2019. http://www.natvpu.org/uploads/5/9/5/2/59529767/final_report_pablo_perez_ruiz__1_.pdf.
Spickard, Sally. “Veterinary Staff Turnover: Burnout, Benefits, and Breaking Points.” The Art of Growing Your Veterinary Practice. DVM insider, May 14, 2020. https://www.dvminsider.com/veterinary-staff-turnover-burnout-benefits-and-breaking-points/.
Today’s Veterinary Business. “U.S. Veterinary Care Is A Nearly $19 Billion Market.” News. Today’s Veterinary Practice, March 2019. https://todaysveterinarybusiness.com/u-s-veterinary-care-is-a-nearly-19-billion-market/.
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.
Aziz, Afdhel. “The Power of Purpose: The Business Case for Purpose (All the Data You Were Looking For),” March 7, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/afdhelaziz/2020/03/07/the-power-of-purpose-the-business-case-for-purpose-all-the-data-you-were-looking-for-pt-1/#76d53bc930ba.
Gabbatiss, Josh. “CarbonBrief Clear on Climate - CO2 Emissions from Healthcare in the World’s Largest Economies Acount for about 5% of Their National Carbon Footprints, According to a New Study.,” October 6, 2019. https://www.carbonbrief.org/healthcare-in-worlds-largest-economies-accounts-for-4-of-global-emissions.
Practice Greenhealth. “2019 Sustainability Data.” https://practicegreenhealth.org/tools-and-resources/2019-sustainability-data
Sherman, MD, Jodi, Andrea MacNeill, MD, and Cassandra Theil, MD. “Reducing Pollution from the Health Care Industry.” JAMA 322, no. 11 (2019): 1043–44.
Todays Veterinary Business. “Veterinary Industry Is $18B Industry,” March 2019. https://todaysveterinarybusiness.com/u-s-veterinary-care-is-a-nearly-19-billion-market/.
Weise, Elizabeth. “Climate Change Could Threaten Dogs with Diseases Pushing into New Parts of the USA,” June 15, 2019, sec. Nation. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/06/15/climate-change-could-hurt-your-dog-diseases-spread-into-new-areas/1414608001/.