Sustainability at Paragon Veterinary Group
Paragon Veterinary Group in Cumbria is a founder member of VetSalus, which is taking a proactive approach to sustainability in veterinary practice. Paragon employs a team of 25 veterinary surgeons, 6 nurses, 15 vet technicians and a large business support team working from 3 sites. The practice features farm, companion animal, equine and advanced breeding divisions and each contributes to the development of a more sustainable business.
Paragon Managing Director David Black, who doubles as MD of VetSalus and is also a board member of Vet Sustain, has been particularly active in the area and regularly speaks and contributes articles on this topic. David has recently spoken at the SPVS congress, as well as the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (ANZCVS) Science Week and to the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE). In his presentations he emphasises the unique position vets occupy with regard to One Health, being involved with animal, human and environmental arenas.
In particular, farm vets usually have a close and trusted working relationship with their clients and are well placed to advise on the introduction of more sustainable systems. Vet-Led businesses can also make significant progress by evaluating their own operations. Much of what vets do in clinical practice is designed to optimise patient welfare and outcome, in addition to maintaining health and safety of the veterinary team. Changes made for sustainability do not need to compromise these standards.
During these talks, David gave examples of some aspects of the influence vet-led business can have:
Responsible Resourcing and Recycling;
- Adopting the “Waste Hierarchy” is the first step in waste reduction; reduce, re-use, recycle. A great example is changing from single-use plastic sharps containers which are incinerated along with their contents, to reusable sharps containers.
- The use of plastics in medicine has revolutionised healthcare: however, plastics have an environmental impact in both their synthesis and disposal, or persistence in the environment. Currently, less than 5% of medical plastics are estimated to be recycled in the human field , although 45-64% are considered to be potentially suitable; this data is not yet available in the veterinary sector.
Sustainable Business Operations;
- Clinical protocols should be optimal, lean and efficient. All travel associated with activities of the business could be rationalised to reduce carbon emissions;
- This is a key area for the largely ambulatory farm vet – as ranges and availability of fast charging improves, a move to hybrid or all-electric vehicles is more attractive
Responsible Medicine Use and Advice;
- Appropriate use of antimicrobials, antiparasitics, hormones etc, is essential. This is particularly to mitigate the development of antimicrobial resistance, but also to prevent environmental contamination. Integrated parasite management is a leading example of responsible medicine use within the veterinary sector.
Colleague and Community Engagement;
- Sustainability of people is critically important, so we need to ensure that we have tools in place to foster a “thriving in practice” culture – examples include wellbeing gardens, green space, fresh fruit deliveries, social activities, mentoring and coaching etc
- The practice is also particularly proactive in networking and education, regularly holding open days for local schools and clubs.
Act as Advocates and Advisors;
- Reframe the discussion; Engage with farmers and others, asking open questions and with an enthusiasm to understand their farm, system and aspirations
- Inform ourselves and our clients; Understand the science (eg GWP*, biogenic cycles, carbon footprints)
Paragon has recognised the importance of involving all employees in sustainability, whatever their primary role within the business. 13 like-minded individuals have come together from across all business functions to form a Green Group, led by Sustainability Champion Laura Binnie.
The Green Group has completed a carbon and waste audit, the data from which will then be used to benchmark and monitor progress as more of their sustainability plan is implemented. Easy wins, such as switching to a renewable energy supplier, replacing old inefficient boilers and replacing spent light bulbs with LEDs all go some way to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the practice. As well as actively reducing travel for meetings and conferences, they also plan to replace their vehicle fleet with electric or hybrid vehicles to reduce emissions and ultimately their carbon footprint.
Involving the entire team has been instrumental in driving positive change - sustainability isn’t about a few people doing something big, it's about a lot of people doing what they can to make a difference. A great example of this is the “30 Days Greener” initiative, which describes thirty ways in which the Paragon team have changed their activities towards a greener way of working. It is a great example of internal communication within a busy veterinary practice, something that often gets forgotten in the frantic pace of day to day “vetting.”
These three short articles have endeavoured to show how different veterinary businesses are approaching sustainability. Every practice is different but it is clear that each can make some contribution to this important cause. All three businesses have engaged with the entire vet-led team to form a ‘Green Group’, united by an enthusiasm and passion for sustainability.
At VetSalus we are committed to providing leadership, education and opportunities for veterinarians and their teams. Registration for this course is currently closed, but will be opening again soon. Why not join our waiting list to receive the latest updates, including when our next cohort will be open for participants to enrol. Please contact us by email if you have a story or a query regarding sustainability in veterinary practice, [email protected] .