This summer has seen unprecedented temperatures in the UK and across Europe. Most people see this as a consequence of humankind’s activities over the last century which has seen high levels of deforestation, increased burning of fossil fuels, an increase in the levels of plastic in the environment and a reduction in biodiversity. All of these changes have led to sea level rises, extreme weather and unsafe air and land pollution.
COP26 set a target of trying to keep temperature rises below 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. This will only happen with a concerted effort from the government, industries and individuals. However, it is still possible particularly if everybody believes it is!
The veterinary industry is made up of several parts:
- Associations and industry bodies like RCVS, BVA, BSAVA, BCVA and Vet Sustain.
- Corporate practices like IVC Evidensia and Medivet.
- Independent practices.
- Veterinary businesses like MSD, ManyPets, Idexx and MWI.
- Individual vets, nurses and support staff make practice happen.
Building a sustainable veterinary plan for the future will require all these bodies to work together cooperatively to build something robust but innovative enough to meet the challenges of the next decade.
The RCVS recently announced a practice standards award in sustainability. Vet Sustain has produced the Veterinary Green Checklist in association with BVA, BVNA and SPVS. This is a fabulous guide to help the veterinary practice move towards a more sustainable future and is worth reading if a practice is wondering how to start its journey.1
Corporate veterinary practices are beginning to offer advice to individual practices from their head offices but are also producing documents stating their goals in environmental, social and governance (ESG) areas. These documents are very important starting points. Companies that commit their visions to paper are much more likely to succeed in their goals.2
Independent practices do not have the resources or the central help to work on environmental improvements like the corporate groups. However, if the veterinary team is passionate about the environment, they can often move quicker than the corporate groups in moving their plans forward. There are some great new practices like Eco Vets in Wandsworth who have placed sustainability and regeneration at the centre of what they do as they set up their new practice.3
Businesses supporting practices will increasingly be asked about their own ESG strategies as corporate and independent practices begin to ask companies how they can help them become more sustainable. When a veterinary practice begins to work out its carbon usage it also needs to consider how products are produced and transported to the practice by third-party companies, so-called scope 3 emissions. Practices need to start encouraging their suppliers to think about how they can work more sustainably. Many businesses are already starting to move in the right direction with this. For example, the wholesaler, MWI, is beginning to introduce electric vehicles and also reduce deliveries to practices in an attempt to reduce business mileage. Target setting in this area should be science-based to be credible.
Of course, all the planning will lead to nothing if the veterinary team has not bought into the policy. Individual vets and nurses also have a responsibility to promote sustainability to the wider community which they can do by promoting what they are doing via social media, websites, newsletters and practice notice boards. In the end, it is up to the frontline team to turn off lights, pack the dishwasher efficiently and not print unnecessarily.
Any business wanting to set up a sustainable plan for the future must begin to look at:
- Carbon reduction
- Decreasing resource use
- Increasing and restoring biodiversity