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NOW THAT COVID has imposed a competing set of priorities upon us it is understandable, if not exactly desirable, that some businesses’ green initiatives have fallen by the wayside. Add to that, news of global warming, islands of garbage adrift at sea, possible climate links to the pandemic, and increasingly severe droughts and hurricane seasons can leave us feeling hopeless.

But consider what might eventuate if your business took just one step to get (or keep) the “eco” wheels in motion by, for example, bringing in a new line of frames made from recycled plastics, inaugurating an Earth Day promotion (Earth Day is April 22), or simply placing a TerraCycle box in the corner of your office.

We reached out to readers to get an idea of what they’re doing to boost their sustainability profile. We relate their experiences here in the hope you’ll be inspired to do just a little bit more to go — and hopefully stay — green.

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Eco-Friendly Frames

How much thought do you give to the planet when making eyewear-buying decisions? Devoting even a portion of your inventory to sustainably produced frames can have a real impact, while giving your team great stories to hang sales on—and there’s no shortage of options. Companies like Waterhaul and Sea2See specialize in converting the discarded plastic that litters our oceans into frames. Similarly, Costa’s Untangled line of polarized suns for fishermen are made from discarded nets. Mita maufactures its frames from recycled plastic bottles, and Parafina’s glasses are made from 100% recycled materials, such as PET, cork, bamboo and aluminum cans, with a portion of sales donated to worthy causes. Many others make frames from biodegradable materials including bio-acetate (a cotton and wood-derived material that eschews the fossil-fuel based plasticizer found in regular acetate), wood, hemp and other plant fibers, and even coffee grounds.

At EyeShop in Lewis Center, OH, Dr. Cynthia Sayers makes prominent use of ECO’s “One Frame, One Tree” campaign (the company plants a tree for every frame sold) on social media, and offers a magnetic sun clip with every purchase of a sustainable frame. Oxford Eyes in Orlando, FL, recently added rag & bone’s sustainable optical styles for men and women made from bio-acetate. The line has been promoted on Oxford Eyes’ Facebook page, which makes use of #earthday tie-ins to promote sustainable products.

A particularly inspiring example of optical eco-friendliness can be found in Ukrainian eyewear startup Ochis, which — as INVISION’s Jens Carlson reported in November — is still producing frames out of spent coffee grounds donated by local cafes, despite the country’s ongoing war with Russia.

Used Frames & Lenses

Don’t forget you can also contribute by serving as a collection point for old frames. James Wood at Wood Eye Care in Lilburn, GA, gathers up old and donated glasses for his local Lions Club. Lindsey Pulford at Insights Eyecare in Manhattan, KS, reminded us that you can also send in old lenses and demo lenses to a recycling program run by Costa.

General Office Recycling

“I have always recycled everything,” says Jennifer Leuzzi at Mill Creek Optical in Dansville, NY. “Plastic bags frames come in, demo lenses, all paper and cardboard, coffee pods, etc.” Jim Williams at Eye to Eye Optometry in Mexico, MO, says, “We recycle when we can. Aluminum, cardboard shipping boxes and paper. However, our town stopped taking plastic.” One answer to that problem would be to join one of the free programs offered by TerraCycle, which specializes in recycling items not accepted by conventional programs. Find out more about it here: invisionmag.com/032302.

Dr. Marc Ullman would like to recycle more, by the sound of it, if he could get a little help from his staff at Academy Vision in Pine Beach, NJ: “My staff sucks at breaking down cardboard and I find myself always having to break down boxes.” If your team is unmotivated, think about incentivizing sustainable practices. For example, encourage staff to find ways to reduce paper use, and use the money saved to buy them lunch once a week. The payoff for you will be in the increased engagement that will inevitably impact in other areas of the business, not just sustainability.

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Used CLs & Blister Packs

If the optical retail industry has a particular environmental weak spot it might well be used contact lenses and contact lens packaging. A while back, staff at Falls City Eye Care in Louisville, KY, learned from patients that recycled daily contact lens foil packs were ending up in landfills because they’re so small they get sifted out of recyclable material. So, they came up with their own recycling program. “We staple a note on every contact lens order that goes out, stating that if they save their foil packs and return them to us, we will discount their next year’s daily contact lens purchase by $20 and pledge the foil packs will make it to TerraCycle,” says Theresa Martorana. Academy Vision have been recycling #5 contact lens containers for 20 years. According to owner Ullman, “We partnered with B&L’s program, which lets us send the contacts and tin foil top as well to be recycled.” Modern Eyes in Austin, TX recycles both contact lenses and packaging through TerraCycle, as does Insights Eye Care, particularly contact lens trial blisters.

Reusable Bags

Ditching disposable bags not only helps the environment, but also creates a marketing opportunity. According to optical manager Vlad Cordero, last year Focus Eye Care in Hackensack, NJ, discontinued them in favor of reusable ones. “The bags are more expensive, but we figured that reusable bags serve more than one purpose and emblazoned with our logo, we can get more eyes on our brand by doing so. In my opinion, it was worth the additional expense.”

Paper Free

At Taylor Eye Care in Carmi, IL, Morgan DiMaggio’s “main ways of trying to stay green are just using as many laminated documents as possible…
It would be fantastic to get an electronic signature thing instead of having to print out each individual person’s HIPAA form.”

“The pandemic really helped us to see how much paper we were wasting,” says Sophia Pray at Huntley Eye Care in Huntley, IL. “We used to have patients fill out forms in-office. Because of COVID we started doing all online forms, which made for faster, more efficient exam experiences. We also used to mail postcard reminders, but we now use an online recall system. Saves money, less paper and our patients actually schedule annual exams. Instead of printing all insurance plans we are able to print to their EHR so we all have access to the insurance information without having it printed.”

Masks & Cloths

Geoff Graham at Lake Country Optometry in Lake Country, BC, Canada, reports: “We are still using disposable masks for all staff and patients, but they are being responsibly recycled through Vitacore [and] we are using fewer chemicals.”

One product that has become popular among businesses looking to reduce the environmental footprint of their COVID measures is the Norwex Microfiber cleaning cloth, which the company claims removes up to 99% of bacteria from a surface using only water.

According to Mill Creek Optical’s Leuzzi, “We also use Norwex products to clean our mirrors and glass surfaces.”

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AN ‘A’ ON THE GREEN REPORT CARD

A handful of the eyecare and eyewear businesses that responded to our reach-out on the topic of going — and staying — green deserve special mention for covering multiple bases and generally showing real commitment.

  • Says office manager Pam Peters: “We continue to look for ways to increase our awareness and green-ability. From looking at frames that are created with recycled products to continuing to be a recycling location for contact lens packaging and collecting ‘pre-owned’ glasses from patients to take on mission trips for current projects. Additional projects are constantly considered.” — midwest eye, downers grove, il
  • According to Pulford, “We cleaned all of our pens with hypochlorous acid solution and used that for most of our cleaning. For the most part we all wore washable masks, and most of the throwaway products used prior to COVID [were sustainable] right down to biodegradable trash bags. We have TerraCycle boxes all around the office for everything under the sun that regular recycling doesn’t take. We started the program for contact lens trial blisters. We also send in old lenses and demo lenses to the program by Costa.” (Hypochlorous acid is touted as an environmentally friendlier alternative to bleach and other chemical cleaners.) — Insights Eyecare, Manhattan, KS
  • Says owner Nielsen-Swanson, “We strive to keep things green through actions such as upcycling construction materials when we built out our storefront, participating in frame recycling/donation programs, because every action matters, big or small! We strive to continuously make a positive impact on the environment through our green practices which include 100% paperless transactions, digital product orders and processing, in-store use of LED lights and insulation, and donation of used lenses and frames to local and overseas charities. We take action as a local business to protect our planet.” — Oxford Eyes, Orlando, FL

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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