We all know the deal: reuse, reduce, and recycle. And yet, as of 2009, the US was producing 251 million tons of trash each year. Only 53.4% of all paper products were recycled, while only 32.5% of total waste was recycled (stats from Sustainablog). So, yes, we know the deal, but are we doing all we can? Hopefully, your clinic recycles, and if it doesn’t, that’s my first tip: recycle and make sure you’re following your waste management service’s recycling rules.

Of course, there’s so much more that your clinic can do to help the environment than simply recycling. Here are four ways to go green in your clinic:

1.) Ditch the paper.
You might be thinking: “Of course, WebPT, an EMR, would say the first step is to ditch the paper.” But we speak the truth, and we’re not just talking about your SOAP notes. (Although going digital with your documentation is a monumental step in eliminating paper use and waste in your clinic.) The Green Business Bureau and Inc. gives these pointers:

  • Encourage communications by email—not standard mail. Read email messages on screen rather than print.
  • Save receipts, invoices, and other crucial documents as PDFs rather than printing. (With WebPT, check out eDoc.)
  • Eliminate cover sheets and avoid faxing whenever possible. Also, fax directly from your computer (like you can with WebPT) to avoid printing a copy to fax.
  • Produce double-sided documents whenever possible, use old letterhead for scratch paper, and reuse packaging materials for any items you might ship.

One more paper ditching tip: make all patient forms downloadable from your website. According to a PT Magazine article entitled “PTs and PTAs Going Green,” downloadable forms “will reduce your costs, make your patients and clients happier, and prevent overprinting and stockpiling.” Within the article, Elizabeth Hampton, PT, BCIA-PMDB, owner of Core Therapeutics Physical Therapy in Bellingham, Washington says that this effort has been one of their greatest cost savings: “‘We no longer have to spend time and money printing out the forms ourselves, or pay for those blasted ink cartridges and all the postage. I’d say 60 to 70 percent of our clients download their own forms.’”

2.) Cut the throwaways.
This one is simple. Eliminate all plasticware, paper plates, and solo cups from your break room. Purchase some inexpensive plates, cups, and silverware and have staff use, wash, and reuse. Furthermore, buy economy size packages of cleaning products, trash bags, office supplies, etc. to eliminate packaging waste. If you can purchase clinical supplies that also use minimal packaging, even better.

3.) Communicate your efforts and buy green.
Jumping off of my second tip, when you’re purchasing supplies and materials for your clinic, communicate your environmentally-conscious efforts and buy green:

  • Investigate office supplies made of recycled materials, such as recycled paper (for when you do need to print).
  • Partner with suppliers who take back packaging for reuse.
  • Inquire with all suppliers about sustainable products and when possible, buy recycled, refurbished, biodegradable, or used. Inc. recommends, you “make the environment, and not just price, a factor when purchasing.”
  • Search for greener products and services on a local level. According to The Green Business Bureau, “the further your supplies or service providers have to travel, the more energy [they’ll] use to get them to you.”
  • Find alternatives to all toxic products, such as batteries, copier toner, and even cleaning and beauty products. Wholly green PT clinic Body Solutions, Inc. in New Jersey uses all natural and non-toxic soaps, cleaners, lotions, etc. If there are certain toxic products you cannot find alternatives for, make sure you learn how to properly dispose of them.

4.) Rethink transportation.
Encourage patients and staff alike to rethink their commutes. It can be as easy as:

  • installing bicycle racks
  • offering instructions on your website of how to access your clinic via public transit
  • providing preferred parking for carpoolers

Or, you can up the ante a little and create incentives. For example, the green PT clinic I mentioned above offers discounts to patients who use hybrid cars. Furthermore, full-time employees of Central Physical Therapy and Fitness in Seattle “can select monthly bus passes as part of their benefits package, and any patient who walks, cycles, or takes public transportation to the clinic [receives] a bus ticket for future use,” according to “PTs and PTAs Going Green.” And while the bus tickets do costs the clinic (roughly $15 a month says clinic co-owner Jutta Schneider, PT, MSPT), the action creates a goodwill vibe, contributes to their green efforts, and has won the clinic both clients and staff.

Lastly, if possible, teleconference for business purposes rather than traveling. According to Inc, “for must-go trips, keep track of the miles driven and flown and buy ‘carbon offsets’ from a nonprofit like Carbonfund.org to make up for the greenhouse gas emissions.”

Those are my tips, and they’re literally just the tip of tips. What does your clinic do to go green?

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