Texas veterinarian Lee Zeplin shares how she lowers her environmental impact
With the weather continuing to warm up and Earth Day 2023 happening this weekend, veterinary practices may be thinking about how they can lessen their environmental impact. Since starting her practice 18 years ago, Dr Lee Zeplin of Lone Star Animal Hospital in Victoria, Texas, has developed greener habits for her small-animal practice. She has promoted these practices out of a sense of responsibility for being earth-friendly, and a strong dislike of wasting resources. She’s also truly committed to the “repurpose, reuse, reduce, recycle” philosophy.
“It’s all about how these things add up,” said Zeplin. “Just a bit of effort to do the right thing for our planet makes sense to me. The habit becomes self-fulfilling once you see the reduction of landfill ‘trash’ you generate and the money you can save by establishing greener habits.”
Below are five ways that Zeplin and her staff have promoted greener habits in their own practice. These habits don’t have to be substantial changes in action in order to make a difference. Smaller steps, taken over time, can add up to big results!
1. Consolidate shipments when possible
Zeplin has found that one of the ways she lowers her environmental footprint is to order less frequently. Consolidating clinic shipments isn’t always easy, but it reduces the amount of cardboard and packaging that comes along with supplies, as well as reducing transportation emissions, shipping costs, and time spent ordering and putting away supplies.
“It sounds like consolidating your orders is challenging but, in reality, it’s doable,” said Zeplin. “We do our best to minimize how often we order so we can get everything at one time. It’s easier to unpack and consolidate the mass amounts of packing materials, which every clinic knows is a LOT.” Zeplin takes all non-recyclable packaging items to her local shipping store, which has been happy to accept and reuse what could go to a landfill. “Coolers, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, we Tetris all of it together and I take it to the UPS Store.”
2. Establish recycling programs
A recycling program was one of the first things that Zeplin instituted when the practice was opened 18 years ago. Zeplin shared how she began office recycling. “When we first opened, we had to operate on a line of credit. Minimizing any extra expenditure was imperative and a trash dumpster rental was way more costly than a city curbside trash can. As a result, we used one city upright can for all the clinic trash and added a second about eight years later. Also, at the time we opened the city did not have a curbside recycling service, so we hauled a pickup truck of recyclables weekly to a city recycle center a couple blocks away.”
Zeplin continued, “Starting to seriously recycle may have been launched to reduce costs to the practice, but I always wanted to recycle regardless. When the close-by city recycle center closed, we started renting a recycle dumpster from Waste Management. The recycle dumpster is literally packed to the top every week with cardboard, paper, glass, aluminum, plastics 1-7. As a matter of fact, the recycling practices have worked so efficiently that it wasn’t until six months ago that our two city trash cans were traded in for an actual trash dumpster.”
3. Make an in-clinic composting process easy
“We repurpose or compost as much food waste as we can in our clinic. Little to none goes into the trash,” said Zeplin. “Biodegradable fruit and vegetable scraps can be tossed into the pasture behind the practice, but more often than not I bag up scraps to take home to feed to my chickens or another employee takes them home to her pigs. Nothing goes to waste.”
These kinds of persistent efforts appear to have also ignited a passion for more earth-friendly practices throughout the office. Zeplin says that staff contributes to her compost pile and employees and close family have started composting or recycling at home after seeing the reduction of landfill waste it can accomplish. In addition to being greener, has given them a common goal to work on together.
4. Focus on surgery and procedure lighting
Modern lighting options, such as LED bulbs, use less electricity so their environmental footprint is smaller. However, this lighting has other benefits. LED light spectrums are much brighter so many practitioners find them easier to see with. They’re also cooler and much more comfortable to stand underneath during surgeries and other procedures.
“We replaced all of our exam and surgical lights with LEDs a while back,” said Zeplin. “They’re smarter for the long term, and wow, the other ones were so hot. Really hot. And these new lights are a lot brighter to the point we often use the dimmer.”
More energy efficient surgery and procedure lighting has become so popular that many manufacturers no longer produce fixtures with more incandescent bulbs. However, the more traditional, energy hogging bulbs can also be seen in older offices. For those practice owners, retrofitting their lighting is a greener choice that also benefits the practice overall. StarTrol lighting is just one example of a manufacturer that offers brighter, durable, energy efficient lighting options.
5. Reduce anesthesia gas releases into the environment
Waste gases from anesthesia used in procedures can have an unexpected but significant impact on the environment. As gas is released outside of the clinic it can linger in the air more than expected, with some gases sticking around longer than others. Using recently made anesthesia machines as efficiently as possible, and keeping them in good condition, is one way to reduce waste gases and even small reductions can add up over time.
One of the ways that Zeplin ensures her machines stay in top condition is doing daily leak checks and having the vaporizer and machines calibrated and serviced annually. She also has participated in the vaporizer exchange program so that she’s using a version that’s reasonably current and operates efficiently.
Dr. Lee Zeplin of Lone Star Animal Hospital
In the end, Zeplin sees her combined efforts to have a softer footprint on the planet as simply doing the right thing. She has found that things like using white shop towels to clean in place of paper towels reduces your cost and trash volume. Using more efficient lighting makes many jobs easier, more comfortable and reduces electric bills. Consolidating orders is more efficient overall.
Even as the practice has grown from a 3,500-square-foot facility with one doctor to 5,500 square feet and three doctors, Zeplin remains staunchly committed to making a difference.
“I look at how much we’re putting in our recycling dumpster every week versus just having it hauled to a landfill. It is not an exaggeration to say that about 75% of our ‘trash’ is actually recycled in some form or fashion.” Zeplin added, “Using green practices is part of being a being a conscientious human being and thinking about the planet. Maybe it doesn’t seem like little steps would matter. But living it and seeing the results, I know the little things do add up over time. Absolutely.”
To find even more ideas on what steps your team can take to reduce your carbon pawprint, and learn about Patterson Veterinary’s commitment to sustainability, visit PattersonVet.com/GoGreen.