“Green technology” is the term used for any application of science, knowledge or technology intended to improve the impact of our daily practices on the environment.1 This movement encompasses a continuously evolving group of methods and materials—from techniques for generating energy to non-toxic cleaning products.2 The goals that guide its development are sustainability, source reduction, cradle-to-cradle design, innovation and viability.2 So, let us “unpack” these words, and see how the eye care community can participate in preserving our world for the next generation.
• Sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of society without damaging or depleting natural resources.
• Source reduction is reducing the pollution and waste, both of which are products of manufacturing and consumption of products.
• Cradle-to-cradle design is recycling. Currently, when a product reaches the end of its useful life, it goes to its grave (cradle-to-grave).
• Innovation is creating alternatives to technologies that damage the environment or our health.
• Viability is the life of green technology, as well as centering the economy around green products and technologies. This encourages the creation of new careers and the speedy development of new products that benefit our health and protects our planet.2
The general consensus among those working in the field of green technology is that this new way of thinking will change our daily life much like information technology has done over the last two decades. But, in these early stages, it is impossible to predict what green technology may eventually encompass.1 There are a lot of questions, most of which do not yet have answers. Even so, not having answers is not an excuse for ignoring the issue at hand. We are at the cusp of a change that will sweep through our world. How will those involved in eye care respond?
What can we do to reduce or eliminate the cradle-to-grave cycle of solution bottles, lens packaging and lens cases? Should we provide recycling centers for these plastic by-products? Better yet, what innovations are we thinking about that can eliminate these products altogether? If you work in the eye care manufacturing industry, are you encouraging sustainability in your product development? Are cutting edge products and technologies being developed with source reduction in mind?
Without a doubt the current trend toward frequently replacing lens storage cases benefits the patient—as the case is disposed, the contaminating microbes go to their grave also. But, is a landfill full of contact lens cases the answer? Surely, there is a green solution here—one that does not benefit the patient at the expense of the environment.
First, I suggest we all take stock of the practices we currently employ that support green principles and ensure that they are used to their full capacity. Educated office staff will consistently recycle waste if we make it convenient to do so. Your attitude should be one of leading by example—encouraging those who join in your green efforts, and correcting those who don’t.
Examine your practice’s habits of consumption. Is there a way to save energy by lowering your thermostat? Do you recycle or donate old equipment including computers and printers? Are your records computerized to save paper? Do you have a water cooler, or do employees drink bottled water? If you are renovating or redecorating, are you making green choices for floor covering and countertops?3,4
In addition to strengthening current green methods and implementing new ones, we should be on the lookout for ways to support earth-friendly innovations in eye care. The future means, by which we will depart from plastic solution bottles, the trappings from disposable contact lenses and landfills full of contact lens cases is currently an idea lurking in the caverns of someone’s mind. Who knows, it might be yours? If you have an idea—share it. The future of our planet and our profession depends on it!
1. Green Technology. Available at: http://oracle.ittoolbox.com/directory/busstratpl/green. (Accessed August 2010).
2. Strategy and leadership for clean, sustainable communities. Available at: www.green-technology.org. (Accessed August 2010).
3. Companies Going Green. Available at: www.buzzle.com/articles/companies-going-green. (Accessed August 2010).
4. Ten Ways to Go Green and Save Green. Available at: www.worldwatch.org/resources/go_green_save_green. (Accessed August 2010).