Advocacy takes many forms; but in the medical industry, there is no advocacy work more important than your own patients’ health. And with what we know today, it’s impossible to separate the health of your patients from the environments that they’re in, including the medical office where you see them.
Whether a clinic, specialty practice or urgent care facility, your medical office is the perfect place to set an example with an eco-friendly space. Those in the medical community have a unique opportunity and responsibility to connect aspects of patient health with the health of the environment.
Your practice can support a healthy planet while also helping individuals with their own wellness. Here are some easy ways to green your office space.
Invest in hypoallergenic, living plants.
Studies show that green spaces improve moods and promote overall health—and eco-friendly spaces, where infection is prevented and stress levels are reduced, look great while also cutting indoor ozone. A doctor’s office isn’t the best spot to put a bunch of aromatic, blooming flowers on display, but it is a great place for air-purifying, non-blooming (read: hypoallergenic) plants like spiders, succulents, pothos and areca palms.
With so many patients considering waiting rooms the worst part of doctor visits, a planter or two containing anxiety-reducing houseplants may be just what the doctor ordered!
Play up the natural light.
If you’re fortunate enough to have windows in your waiting room, turn down the electric lights! Sunlight is a natural mood enhancer, raises pain thresholds, and even has been linked to shorter hospital stays. Design elements like improved lighting helps doctors, too, contributing to a reduction in stress for staff and fewer medical errors.
Switch from fluorescent lights to LEDs.
Speaking of lighting, there’s almost nothing worse than linear fluorescent light fixtures. If you don’t have natural lighting, swap those outdated lights out for LEDs, which last forever and are far more relaxing and easier on the eyes; or full-spectrum fluorescent lighting, which has been linked to improved mental clarity and mood.
Turn things off when your office is closed.
Power strips, timers, and motion-activated lights can all help you immensely with this. Remind employees to save their work on their computers, and shut down the power when they are done.
While you’re at it, change your office thermostat by just a degree or two—down in the winter, and up in the summer. That action alone can knock a significant percentage off your electric bill while seriously cutting down on energy use.
Get your staff involved too by making a game out if it: set an office-wide goal of, say, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent over the next year, and chart your progress with a wipe-off board in the break room. Ten percent may seem like a lot, but you’ll be surprised what a difference these little energy-saving actions make when you start analyzing your energy bills and consciously reducing your use.
Limit single-use items.
There’s not much of a work-around for single-use items like needles, exam gloves, or paper exam-table covers. But you can do something about plastic cutlery in the break room, disposable Keurig cups, foam cups, and endless takeout containers by replacing them with reusable items that washed instead of tossed. Rethink unnecessary packaging and how things are disposed of, and invest wherever possible in more sustainable materials (including products you might recommend to patients).
You can also look into sparkling water machines and water bottle refill stations to reduce waste for your staff and patients. And be sure to educate your staff on what can be sorted as recyclable waste and what cannot.
Cancel your magazine subscriptions.
One easy way to reduce waste around the office is to cancel all those magazine subscriptions. Replacing celebrity gossip or news periodicals (that can increase patient stress!) and use a lot of resources to print, why not pick up some coffee table books that you can rotate in and out every few months? Pictures of national parks, green spaces, animals and so on may help soothe patients and not become last month’s old news.
While you are at it, take a look at the art hanging on your walls. Swapping out images for local photography of green spaces or paintings of local landscapes may be things that your patients recognize, can conjure good memories and feelings of peace.
Rethink your textiles.
If you’re opening your own practice or considering a renovation, look into textiles that are stain-resistant and don’t require cleaning with harsh chemicals. Recycled wallpapers, no-VOC paint, natural fabrics and fewer chemical cleaners mean less ‘off-gassing’ of harmful chemicals into the air for your patients and staff to breathe.
Companies like EcoLab, Method, Seventh Generation, and Mrs. Meyer’s (to name a few) offer eco-friendly cleaning products and solutions that use up to considerably less packaging and in 2017 alone, EcoLab alone conserved more than 170 billion gallons of water, saved 12 trillion BTUs of energy, and did kept 52.4 million pounds of waste out of landfills!
Put your fish tank to work.
Aquariums are a popular fixture in many doctors’ offices. If you really want to go all-out, why not take it to the max and set up an aquaponics kit? The greens you grow can get given to staff or donated to a local food pantry. If you don’t have a fish tank, also consider a living wall, which doubles as an art piece.
Encourage environmental advocacy around the practice.
Nothing promotes your own environmental advocacy like getting your staff involved. Develop an advocacy program that allows for sponsorship or assistance to various causes: adopt a section of highway, host a trash cleanup around town or on a nearby coast, or partner with a local farm for an event promoting local foods. And these activities will get you noticed and increase action in your community, bringing your advocacy work in-office out into the public.