Socially Responsible Dental Practice

Running a Socially Responsible Dental Practice

Mark Topley – Corporate Social Responsibility Coach for Dental Practices

Few of us have missed two massive events in the story of climate change and the environment over the past 12 months. We’ve seen several speeches from the young environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg, and the rallying call from veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. It’s indicative of a shift that has been going on for a while. We are all becoming more uncomfortable with the reality that our impact on the planet is not sustainable.

If you’re like my clients, you’re more and more aware of the need to think about how responsible your practice is. How can you stay compliant and care for the environment at the same time?

My work is focused on helping practices to do just that, and I’ll offer some very practical recommendations below. But in case you’re still not convinced this is for you, here are three solid business reasons why you should be an environmentally responsible practice:

  • It’s the law. All businesses in the UK are required to ‘keep waste to a minimum by doing everything you reasonably can to prevent, reuse, recycle or recover waste (in that order)’
  • Going green can improve your practice’s reputation. With a whopping 88% of consumers now expecting you to create social and environmental impact through your business, you simply must show patients, staff, and the general public that you’re mindful of your business’ impact on the planet
  • Being part of an effort to do something positive for the environment can boost your team’s morale and culture. If staff already recycle and save energy at home, they will appreciate the opportunity to do so at work too. When everyone shares equal ownership of a positive activity or change, it confirms that one person’s actions can have an impact when everyone works together.

So you’re convinced that this is something that you both want and need to tackle. What can we actually do?

In the surgery

  • Rinse cups – you can swap out plastic for bio-plastic, replace plastic with fully compostable paper options, or purchase stainless steel autoclavable cups. Bio-plastic reduces the use of fossil-based resources and creates lower greenhouse gas emissions
  • Recycling in surgery – more practices are installing bins in surgery that allow for separation of waste. Only truly clinical waste is incinerated while paper and plastics are sorted and recycled
  • Polishing paste – get rid of the small plastic pots and opt for large tubs of polishing paste, placed on the back of a glove
  • Suction tips – go for sugar cane or bio-plastic; again these reduce the use of fossil resources and emissions
  • Wipes – one of my clients has changed to a more expensive wipe. They now find they are using one wipe when before they were using 3 or 4 for the same job. Not only a cost saving but also a 60-70% reduction in waste
  • Plastic sleeves – I’m working with practices who have stopped wrapping tubes and handles in plastic sleeves, and are wiping it instead
  • Surgical kits – how much of your standard surgical kit is thrown straight in the bin after its opened? I am working with a supplier who is offering surgical kits packed to client specifications so that there is zero waste from each procedure. This has the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of waste generated.

In the practice

  • Bamboo Pikis – although they are currently shipped from Australia, they’re proving popular with patients. Hopefully, distribution will change as demand increases. You can also encourage and educate patients to snip the end off plastic interdental brushes and recycle the handles
  • Toothbrushes – Bamboo toothbrushes have been available for some time. For patients who want a more traditional brush, Tepe now produces the ‘Good’ toothbrush made from bioplastic in a zero-carbon factory, which is 96% recyclable. There are also bio-plastic heads available for electric brushes
  • Terracycle Oral Health Waste Recycling – proving very popular with practices, whether it’s Terracycle’s own scheme or the partnership with Colgate (which also recycles electric heads and toothbrush packaging). It’s a visible and genuine way to demonstrate your green commitment.

Behind the scenes

  • Refreshments – a big source of waste are single-use plates, cups and glasses, especially when you have a team lunch. Make a commitment to eradicating this kind of waste by purchasing cutlery and crockery that can be re-used. You should also buy Fair Trade tea, coffee, etc because the production and supply of these meet higher sustainability and ethical standards
  • Paper – as well as double-sided printing, many practices are switching to FSC certified or recycled paper for both office printing and production of publicity. This ensures you both reduce your usage and obtain paper from sustainable sources
  • Travel – almost two-thirds of the carbon footprint of your practice comes from travel, so anything you can do to reduce this – active travel of staff, lift-sharing, co-ordination of appointments makes a big difference
  • Hand-drying – paper towels have one of the highest carbon footprint of anything in the practice. Consider using hand dryers or even laundered towels
  • Recycling – the obvious one – you need to recycle whatever is possible. This may cost you money in the short term, but it will pay off long term. You can also provide a means for the practice and patients to recycle batteries, printer cartridges etc
  • Power supply – as well as switching off when not in use and replacing old devices with more efficient ones, you can achieve a huge impact by sourcing your electricity and gas from green suppliers. This ensures that any power usage is sustainable, and any gas use is offset.
    Use your website, social media, newsletter and/or posters to display a green message that patients as well as staff can be informed and encouraged by
  • Biodiversity – we need to give our bees, birds and other insects a helping hand, as they play an important role in our food chain. A wildlife area created outside the practice, which includes bird feeders, native wild flowers and/or native shrubs is a great idea. If you don’t have a garden or forecourt then a raised bed or flower containers will suffice.

Having a policy

Putting this into practice forms one part of your practice’s corporate social responsibility (CSR), with the other pillars being team and ethics, and charity and community engagement. I’m happy to announce that I’ve been working with CODE to create a Corporate Social Responsibility Overview (M 299) and updated policy (M 233-SDV), which will be released into iComply before the end of the year.

Mark Topley helps practice managers and owners to run more responsible and successful businesses. He coaches them through the challenge of integrating corporate social responsibility, making it a business advantage. He helps create clarity, structure and momentum with CSR to attract patients and grow more productive and profitable teams. He writes at and provides free articles and advice on his Facebook page –, Twitter @Mark_Topley