05 May 2021
Tips to reduce energy and water use in veterinary practice
20 Apr 2022 | Helen Gould
Old Hall Veterinary Centre is a small independent practice putting the environment at the heart of everything they do, and were named were joint winners of The Veterinary Green Practice of the Year Award 2022. Helen Gould, Sustainability lead for the practice, shares some of their top tips for reducing energy and water usage.
It's essential to tackle energy and water use to reduce your environmental impact. It’ll also help to reduce costs, which is particularly pertinent at the moment and a good way to 'sell' greening the practice to any recalcitrant bosses.
At Old Hall Vets we managed to shave 20% off our energy bill through daily management and awareness alone – that didn’t even account for the increased insulation, light sensors, heat recovery unit from our previous building refit. It’s incredible what a difference can be made just with a bit more thought.
The first thing to do when thinking about reducing electricity, water or gas use is to start measuring what you use. It’s essential to demonstrate that whatever intervention you make is actually doing the job if you want to bring the team with you. Nothing is more encouraging than being able to see a difference.
Measuring a baseline may seem a bit onerous at first, it certainly did to me. You might feel that it delays getting started as you wait for more readings – but it doesn’t need to. Look at the utility bills from the previous 12-24 months, and you should be able to find enough meter readings to give you a current annual usage figure. Make a note of this baseline consumption and you're ready to go. From now on record your meter readings regularly, preferably monthly as a regular pattern helps. Maybe give a team member the responsibility for doing this on a specific day each month.
Now it's time to make some changes. What you do will depend on your own situation, and it’s a good idea to ask your team for ideas. Once everyone gets thinking it’s amazing how many new energy saving ideas emerge! We’ve included some top tips that worked well in our practice below.
Some ideas to help you reduce electricity use:
- Add a note on the kettle to remind everyone to only boil what they need
- Task end of day staff with making sure all lab machines, computers, screens and printers are fully OFF. Don't turn on computers in the morning until they are needed.
- Make sure all lights turned off when not needed and use LED bulbs
- Fit PIR sensors to lights which automatically turn off when there’s no movement in a room (you'll find out who sits REALLY still!). Make sure you can override the sensors in examination and imaging rooms so you can darken them for ophthalmic exams, scans etc
- Dry washing outside or on racks inside rather than using a tumble dryer.
- Regularly service air conditioning units. These can gobble up electricity if working inefficiently. We found this out to our cost, only realising something was amiss due to our regular monitoring of electric use.
- Switch to a 100% renewable supplier. This makes a big difference to your carbon footprint.
- If you have a south facing roof or some land, consider installing solar panels or a wind turbine to produce your own electricity.
- Turn down the thermostat by a degree and check timings. Are you heating for longer than necessary? It should reduce an hour before everyone leaves.
- Do you need to heat every room to the same temperature? Prep and Op rooms need to be warmer, but could others be cooler?
- Provide heat exactly where it’s needed by using heat pads and insulated coverings during surgery and recovery, rather than the whole room being hot. We find this is much better for patients as well.
- Do you need as many heaters? We had a lot of inefficient electric wall heaters which were just too easy to turn on and forget about. We took some out and changed to a more efficient heater in reception.
- Can you cut out draughts more? Close doors, check window seals etc. We put a porch on the front of our building during lockdown to allow us to talk to clients and stay dry. A side effect has been that it has reduced the weather hitting the glass doors and consequently reduced our heating requirement.
- Insulation is massively important. There are plenty of resources out there to help you decide on the best approach.
- Consider a heat recovery unit. These work best in a sealed building - ours isn't completely sealed but heat recovery still helps and we get more fresh air (pre warmed) into the building which keeps it smelling fresh and helps dry washing.
Reducing water use isn't just about saving this valuable resource, but also about putting less used water into the sewage system. Sewage facilities do not remove or detoxify all harmful elements, and all water used eventually finds it's way into our rivers and seas, causing pollution and threatening biodiversity. Here are our tips:
- What goes down the plug-hole at your practice? How many times have you squirted unused syringe contents down the drain? Products of concern are disinfectants, including surgical scrub, parasiticides and other drugs, laundry products etc. We all use a lot of chlorhexidine, do we need to use quite as much? If you check the information on efficacy of products, you’ll probably find you can reduce the concentration used.
- Do you need to flush the toilet after every use? I have to admit that letting it ‘mellow when yellow’ was a step too far for my team. I applaud you if you can encourage your team to do this. But you can put water saving packs into the toilet cisterns to reduce the water used.
- Always fill the washing machine before use, no half load washes. Use the lowest temperature and shortest wash you can get away with (pre-soaking helps). I appreciate a high temperature is necessary for some items and that cleaning is essential in disease control, but save those high temperatures for the items that really need it. Also consider using Eco Balls, which reduce your use of laundry cleaner.
- Use Sterilium as a surgical scrub for hands.
- If you have plants in pots, install a water butt and use this to water them...and for any outside cleaning
Make sure you let the team know how they're doing. By measuring and comparing one year with another you can soon appreciate any savings. That is a huge impetus to continue and do more, and an excuse for a celebration!
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