by Chelsea Knorr, staff writer
Many people associate going green
with expensive organic products at
the supermarket, but Ina Pockrass,
co-founder of the Eco-Dentistry Association (EDA) suggests
going green is as simple and inexpensive as rethinking.
The EDA has been busy since we last featured it in the October
2010 issue of Dentaltown Magazine. Since then it has created a
program for certifying products and distributors as eco-friendly, in
order to help dentists and patients make conscious decisions.
Ever wonder what is in the products you're buying? The
EDA's seal of approval helps you select products and equipment
that will make the smallest impact on the environment. For
instance, the association suggests an amalgam separator to prevent
toxic mercury from entering the water supply. In 2012, the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will require all practices
to use amalgam separators (see sidebar). The EDA also suggests
using stainless steel impression trays, so as to limit the waste coming
from dental offices. A list of categories online provides a slew
of resources for product buyers to buy smart!
The EDA has also launched a new Web site with a more
robust platform for community development. In conjunction
with its Web site, it has launched a blog called "The Green Zone
(www.ecodentistryblog.com)." From industry news and how-to
blurbs to weekly action items, this blog is teeming with ideas of
how to make better choices for the office and the community.
GreenDOC, a new program for dentists to work toward
greening their offices, launched in February 2010. The program
provides opportunities for dental professionals to become
authentically green and to stay authentically green. Pockrass
explains it as an "objective third-party analysis of what dental
professionals are doing to protect the environment and their
practice." Becoming a member is simple read the member
pledge and agree to abide by its precepts. Once you're a member,
you are eligible to participate in the GreenDOC program,
and have access to the action plans, materials, initiatives and
resources to get your office green certified.
Much like the LEED³ certification, no one comes to inspect
just how green your practice is (except patients, perhaps); rather,
practices submit documentation and supporting materials
which prove they have completed or have a plan to complete the
various suggestions and requirements for getting the office
certified as green. For example, in the category "Sustainable
Location (Fig. 1a)," points are assigned to the various levels of
sustainability. The highest point value goes to a dentist who
practices in a LEED-certified building, the next highest value to
a dentist who practices in an Energy Star-rated building. If these
aren't options for you, it doesn't mean you can't earn any points.
GreenDOC likes to give dentists options! Maybe it is possible to
locate an office in a multi-unit urban location. Can you position
your office next to other amenities like a dry cleaners, gym or
grocery store so patients can limit commute time while running
errands? Maybe you are next to the subway, buses or campus
shuttles? Do you provide parking for those who drive low-emissions
vehicles to your practice? How about a place where those
who ride their bike to their appointment can change? All of
these things help make your practice green, and therefore all of
them get you one step closer to a GreenDOC certification (Fig.
After all the worksheets are completed, the total point value
places offices into one of three categories of certification bronze, silver or gold. Dentists can choose from anywhere on the
"green continuum" which shade of green they'd like their office
to be. "It isn't an all or nothing endeavor," Pockrass says. "We call
it the green continuum. We allow dentists across the board to
work toward going green. We just want dentists to rethink."
Rethinking involves asking yourself two questions: First,
what are the easiest things I can do to prevent waste and be more environmentally conscious? And second, what are the most
common ways in which my practice is wasteful?
Actions as simple as unplugging electronics before leaving
the office can help prevent waste. "If you are the last person to
leave the office, turn off anything with an on-off switch. It saves
energy and money," says Pockrass. Also, she encourages dentists
to instruct patients to turn off the water when they brush
their teeth. Each person who leaves the water on while brushing,
wastes roughly 90 glasses of water per day.4 Another easy suggestion
is to print on both sides of a piece of paper.
For the majority of dentists, infection control and sterilization
are the most wasteful categories because most barriers are
plastic and disposable. Pockrass suggests rather than covering
the dental chair in a plastic bag for every patient, just wiping
down the chair with an eco-friendly disinfectant. It's effective, it
saves money and it keeps paper and plastic out of the landfill.
There are two common misconceptions that surround the
idea of being environmentally conscious within dentistry. One is
the myth that reusable infection control methods are not sufficiently
clean or safe. It is not difficult to find sterilization pouches
that are FDA-registered reusable and barriers, which meet hospital-
grade standards. In fact, 20 percent of hospitals in the U.S. use
reusable sterilization and infection control methods.4
The other misconception is that buying green products is
more expensive. But consider this, digital patient charting not
only saves staff and doctor time but also saves 10,000 sheets of
paper a year. Another example: the average conventional vacuum
system in a dental office uses between 360 and 480 gallons
of water a day, which is enough to fill a 28,000-gallon swimming
pool four times in a year! DentalEZ and BaseVac both
make waterless, oil-less systems.4 And, something as inexpensive
as changing your light bulbs to energy-efficient fluorescents
saves in excess of 2,500 kilowatts of energy per year, or an average
of $400 annually.4,5
"We [the EDA] don't dictate the materials dentists can or
can't use," Pockrass states, wanting every dentist to feel comfortable
with the materials each use. "But we do ask whether the
material is used responsibly," she adds. She particularly warns
about amalgam waste, as well as the lead foils and toxic chemicals
involved in X-rays. There are ways to use your favorite
methods and materials without being hurtful to the environment.
Since amalgam contains harmful mercury, try an amalgam
separator if you want to stick with this time-tested material
(Fig. 1). And implement digital X-rays so you can ditch the
chemicals and processing materials.
If you need a prep course before diving into greening your
practice, take CE through the EDA site. "Green Dentistry
101" introduces the basics and provides definitions of terms and
tips to start greening a practice. And a course on green infection
control includes what ingredients to look for in products, and
what to avoid. It also emphasizes the importance of meeting the
highest safety standards.
The EDA isn't just for dentists though. It's for dental students
and for patients as well. Dental students have access to
all the same features dentists have access to, while patients can
find information about the "Green My Dentist Program."
Patients who already have a dental home but are concerned
about that office's practices can get a form letter off the EDA
Web site and write to their dentist. Patients also have access to
alliances the EDA has established. In October, EDA partnered
with "Green Halloween" promoting recycled costumes and
highlighting the concerns of sugar and the importance of
brushing and flossing afterward.
The EDA is all about encouraging dentists, no matter what
shade of green, to continue the intentional effort to think about
the environment and to implement whatever positive changes
they can into their practices. "Do something," Pockrass says.
"Even if that something is rethinking."
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; U.S. Green Building Council.