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Profiting from the Green Revolution

While there is some controversy on global warming, the trend is undeniably clear: consumers are increasingly concerned about eco-friendly, ‘green’ products and services. 

Eye care providers can participate and even profit from this consumer trend. Identifying who your ‘green’ patients are will help you target your products and services more precisely, and the demographics of this group will be addressed below.

Adding eco-friendly frames and lenses to your inventory can increase sales and profit margins in your practice. Also, simple changes can be made in the office so that you can promote your practice as eco-friendly to your patients and customers. These changes have the added benefit of saving your office money on energy and material costs.

What Is A “Green” Product?

While there is no official definition of a ‘green’ product, there are certain characteristics associated with eco-friendly items. These include the following:

  • Created from sustainable materials

  • Is not hazardous to people, animals, or the environment

  • Does not use materials obtained from endangered species or threatened environments

  • Does not add excess waste in production or disposal

  • Uses packaging that minimizes impact on waste disposal

  • Is recyclable

  • Uses renewable energy sources whenever possible

In the eye care field, that translates into products, eyeglasses made from recycled plastics or natural materials like wood, natural cleaners in BPA-free bottles, lenses manufactured at factories that use sustainable and environmentally safe practices, and eyeglass cases made from natural or recycled products. It also includes simple office changes like using recycled paper and soy inks for printing, recyclable bags, and purchasing office equipment that is Energy Star-certified to reduce energy consumption.

Who Are the ‘Green’ Consumers?

Marketing researchers have studied the demographics of ‘green’ consumers and discovered they have a number of common features. According to one study, those who purchase green products some or most of the time tend to be over 40 years old, have an income of $55,000 per year or more, and typically have an undergraduate or graduate degree. Approximately 70% are female, and nearly 60% are married.

In another study, it was noted that the household size is three or more people, and that the chief ‘green’ purchaser tends to be the adult female in the family. Since mothers also tend to be the chief decision-maker for medical and eye care for a family, eye care providers are already in a great position for ‘green’ marketing.

The ‘Green’ Revolution Meets Eyeglasses

Increasingly, frame manufacturers and lens laboratories are moving toward greener products. Frame manufacturers in particular are experimenting with new styles that incorporate natural materials, like wood and castor oil, or recycled plastics and metals.

Bamboo and woods are once again popular for frames. Some frame designers use bamboo since it is strong and flexible. It is also a fast-growing material, so it can be grown in a sustainable manner. Some frame companies using bamboo are Kay Design, Amy Sacks Eyewear and Barbara Creations. Urban Spectacles, Spectacle Eyeworks, Sires Eyewear, and DRIFT Eyewear also use wood to manufacture their frames. The woods come from felled trees or driftwood. Lee Allen Eyewear crafts their eyewear from buffalo horn.

Some companies are moving away from petrochemical-based plastics and towards plastics made from castor oil, which is produced by the castor bean plant. This plastic has the same tensile strength as nylon and can maintain shape will in both cold and hot environments. Two companies using this plastic are Smith Optics and Optic Nerve Eyewear.

Eyewear can be made from recycled materials as well. Two frame companies who use reclaimed or recycled materials are Blue Planet Recycled Eyewear and Modo. Earth Conscious Optics and iWood Eco Designs also use recycled plastics and woods.

These companies typically ship in environmentally friendly packaging and use productions processes that conserve energy and reduce waste. Allyn Scura and Cazal use manufacturing processes that reclaim water and use solar power when possible. Kenmark Group even goes as far as using the eco-friendly corn-based demo lens in their Jhane Barnes frames.

Eco-Friendly Lens Manufacturers

Companies that manufacture lenses are becoming increasingly ‘green’. ZEAL Optics has developed a plant-based bonding agent called e-Ilume that can replace petroleum-based plastics. Carl Zeiss Vision, Transitions Optical, Essilor of America, and many other optical lens manufacturers are using solar energy, recycled water, and renewable packaging to minimize environmental impacts.

Other companies have moved towards reducing or eliminating the use of toxic materials during lens creation. Schneider Optical Machines, Gerber Coburn and Satisloh, for example, have all created blocking materials that eliminate the need for harmful lead. Practical Systems, Inc. and Ultra Optics have created coatings and coolants that are solvent-free or can be recycled.

Contact Lens Companies Are Going ‘Green’

Johnson and Johnson, CooperVision, Bausch and Lomb, Ciba and other companies are moving towards more sustainable practices. They have all reduced the amount of plastic used in packaging disposable contact lenses. Solution companies, including Alcon, are reducing packaging or changing it to a material that is 100% recyclable.

Clear Conscience Multi-Purpose Solution is an FDA-approved soft contact lens solution that is cruelty-free (not tested on animals) and does not contain thimerosal or chlorhexidine. Practitioners should be aware that it is not FDA-approved as a ‘no-rub’ solution as some others are. Patients need to be instructed to rub their lenses when using this solution.

The ‘Green’ Office

In addition to offering eco-friendly products, there are things you can do in the office that minimize energy and material consumption. Switch to electronic records to reduce paper consumption and improve compliance with the new government mandates on record keeping. Instead of mailing appointment reminders, switch to sending email or text message reminders when possible.

When purchasing new office equipment, look for Energy Star labels that indicate the item uses less energy. Switch incandescent bulbs to CFL or LED bulbs. Recycle paper that does not contain any patient data or sensitive information. Reuse shipping containers instead of tossing them in the trash.

When remodeling, work with architects or office designers to maximize light in appropriate areas to reduce lighting costs. Find a builder that is familiar with LEED certification to make the building or office space more ‘green’. When decorating, use recyclable or sustainable materials.

Live plants help clean the air inside. Just make sure to choose species that are non-toxic to both humans and any service animals who might be visiting. When landscaping outside, make sure to use flowers and plants that do not require pesticides or other chemicals to survive. Offices in desert or drought areas may consider xeriscaping instead to reduce water consumption.

Marketing for the ‘Green’ Consumer

Patients will not know that you are going ‘green’ unless you tell them. If your office has been LEED certified as a green building and you use sustainable energy, make sure to post that on your website. Patients appreciate knowing that you care about the environment as well as their eye health and vision.

One of the best ways to inform patients about your ‘green’ items is to label them prominently. If you offer frames that are eco-friendly, note that on each frame. Use the appropriate, Federal Trade Commission-approved ‘green’ label for lens types and coatings. If you surface or edge lenses at your office, provide information on the enhanced safety of your greener edging products. Not only will you be informing your customers, but you will be protecting your employees with these safer items as well.

Whenever possible, direct-mail contact lenses from the manufacturer to the patient when ordering. This saves fuel consumption and costs for your patient. It also saves time for your staff as well as the patient.

Give Back to the Community

One important way to market your eco-friendly office is to offer to recycle old eyeglasses. Once patients know that they can bring old glasses to you for recycling, they will drop them off periodically. It will give you an opportunity to tell the patient about new eyewear and services in your practice in addition to reducing landfill space. The Lions Club and New Eyes clean, repair, sanitize and measure these eyeglasses and then distribute them to the needy in third world countries. The materials that cannot be distributed are recycled instead of thrown away.

If you are just starting to ‘go green’, do not be overwhelmed. Add one ‘green’ frame line at a time and market it. Replace old equipment with newer, energy efficient models. Switch from mailing reminders to emailing or texting. Recycle old eyeglasses. Before you know it, you will be known in the community as the ‘green’ eye care office.

Beth Carlock, OD

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