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Environmental policy: Is this something we should have?

05 Jun 2021 | April Sotomayor

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To mark World Environment Day on 5 June, we asked April Sotomayor, the lead for Investors in the Environment, to share her advice on creating an environmental policy for your veterinary practice. #GreenTeamVet

Environmental policy: Is this something we should have? Image

Every year on the 5 June, people around the world take part in the United Nations' World Environment Day – a global campaign to encourage awareness and action for the protection of the environment. Each year the imperative for environmental action grows as we see biodiversity decline alongside a changing climate and the impact this has on society and our own wellbeing. The scale of these global problems is hard to face at the level of the individual, and there comes a point when awareness must be met with action. At the level of a veterinary practice, many are looking at taking steps to go green but stall when it comes to taking that first step. An environmental policy can help.

What’s an environmental policy?

The intention of an environmental policy is to take your understanding of your environmental impact and turn it into action by putting sustainability measures in place as a whole organisation. The policy should link to high-level objectives, and direct clear pathways to action across the business. From complying with basic environmental legislation and tackling environmental risks and opportunities, to going further and developing a policy that complements your corporate social responsibility goals, the policy should highlight the direction of travel.

Implementation of a sound environmental policy in veterinary practice will help to reduce the environmental impact of clinical work with patients and offer an opportunity to encourage more widespread sustainable practice amongst clients, colleagues, and suppliers. Your environmental policy should include a focus on continual engagement as a priority – it’s no use developing policies that are read once at the time of induction. Enabling your staff to develop their sustainability knowledge and apply it to their own work will create the necessary change to meet your targets and help staff genuinely feel like a positive part of your shared sustainability journey.

What should be included?

An environmental policy should drive sustainability throughout all areas of the business. It is your business’ statement of commitment for reducing your environmental impacts and should:

  • be concise and relevant to your current business practice or service, by considering the impacts they have on the environment, either directly or indirectly
  • provide a summary of your actions and lead the work you are doing within your environmental management system (EMS), if you have one
  • include leadership commitment to continual improvement
  • explain the context of the organisation and scope (for example, the policy could apply to all sites, staff, visitors, contractors, and suppliers)
  • identify clear environmental objectives (eg reducing your consumption, preventing environmental harm)
  • show that you will benchmark your progress against targets (eg cutting emissions in half by 2030)
  • include a brief on how these targets will be achieved (eg environmental management system, accreditation, audits, etc).

How do we choose our environmental targets?

One of the key things to think about is understanding the aspects of your practice that have an impact on the environment. Aspects are areas of the business that interface with the environment, such as emissions to air, water, soil and consumption of products or services that have the potential to pollute. For example, when you use electricity from the National Grid you are drawing from energy created from a mix of sources, including power plants that burn fossil fuels and all of the energy and maintenance it takes to enable that power to get to your practice. When you use certain types of products in practice, such as drugs or cleaning chemicals, these will also have an impact.

Key areas to tackle include taking efficiency measures and good stewardship of resources such as energy (in practices this is mostly lighting and heating), water, transport (of staff, customers, and goods/services), waste, and f-gases (these are important - and often overlooked: anaesthetic gases, refrigerants), to name a few. Stock control, drugs/medicines, client education/awareness, and procurement of other resources should also be carefully considered. In fact, the biggest environmental impact of your practice may actually be defined by your spending decisions. 

Common policy commitments in veterinary practice:

What next?

An environmental policy may be your first step in setting your top-level commitment; once you’ve had a chance to understand your environmental and sustainability performance you may look to taking the next step and developing this further into a longer-term strategy. This next step should take into consideration alignment to the appropriate sustainable development goals (SDGs) that help you think more broadly about your social impact.

If you would like more information about developing and implementing your environmental policy, we run a 2-hour training course as part of iiE membership – From Policy to Action.  The training is free for all iiE members.

For more tips, take a look at the Vet Sustain Greener Veterinary Practice Checklist and the BVA #GreenTeamVet campaign page. You can also find BVA's own environmental policy here.

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