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Case Study: Garston Veterinary Group, Frome

"Virtually all of our initiatives so far have saved the practice money, and the fact that we have our own green group has been seen in a very positive light by most new recruits to the business."

Sian Naylor

Hi, I’m Sian Naylor, Senior Associate vet at Garston Veterinary Group, a large independent mixed practice situated on the Somerset/Wiltshire border. We have five surgeries providing small animal services, including our main surgery in Frome where our out-of-hours emergency service is based. The Frome surgery also serves as the base practice for our farm and equine teams. The practice is over 100 years old, is featured in the local Frome museum and even has a book written about it!

I was initially motivated to improve our sustainability by my family; particularly discussions with my then-teenage sons. There was also of course an increasing concern about environmental issues amongst the general public, highlighted by the media. Around 18 months ago we started to make little changes at home, to try and reduce our environmental impact. Up until then I had virtually zero knowledge about sustainability (unless you count a bit of kerbside recycling).

I then started to think that we could perhaps make similar changes at work, particularly as it was a hot topic at my husband’s workplace - he’s an engineering consultant.

"Looking online I was amazed to find virtually no information on veterinary sustainability - until I happened upon the Davies Veterinary Specialists website, which has a wealth of information."

I discussed the idea with a couple of Partners at Garston who were very open to the idea of improving our practice sustainability. As part of my management role I run site meetings for all staff members at each of our surgeries, so was well placed to do this. I planned to get things started after doing some sustainability CPD at London Vet Show 2019 - I was there when Vet Sustain was launched! In the meantime my Go Green co-founder Alice Moore had similar ideas on improving our practice sustainability. Alice is a small animal vet at Garston and also sits on the BVA’s policy committee. She had been interested in sustainability for some time, and was further inspired by discussions with both Garston and BVA colleagues. We - well, Alice mainly! - recruited an incredible total of twenty-two Green Group members, and ran our first meeting in December 2019.

Initially our main areas of concern were recycling, anaesthesia, paper usage, energy and transport emissions. We decided to use Ellie West’s webinar “One Practice’s journey towards sustainability” as a starting guide.

Looking back on it, we had actually already taken a number of green steps as a practice without really thinking about it, even before we started our Go Green group. These included:

  • Switching from plastic carrier bags and dispensing packs to paper bags and card dispensing boxes;
  • Use of Sterilium instead of traditional scrubbing up, which has saved large amounts of heating energy and water;
  • Using environmentally-friendly wood-based litter for all feline patients; and
  • Receiving milk deliveries from an organic farmer client to our main Frome surgery.
  • Eating (very!) local - we have staff members who are fantastic bakers, and provide us with regular sweet treats and professional-standard cakes that we enjoy at special events, plus other staff that sell their own produce/crafts.

Steps that have been taken since we started our Go Green group, mainly directly undertaken by us as a group, or involving individual members in some way include:

Reducing energy use

  • By applying “turn it off” stickers on lots of light switches;
  • Replacing all spent light bulbs with LED bulbs; and
  • Establishing a protocol for efficient use of our many heating/air conditioning units. I borrowed this idea from my hubby’s engineering journal, which featured a secondary school that saved £9k (and lots of CO2 emissions) in one year by introducing a protocol, which was managed by a student green group.

More sustainable anaesthesia

  • We have made huge reductions in our use of nitrous oxide - we were previously unware of how potent a greenhouse gas this was - almost 300 times more potent than CO2; and
  • Our small animal vets have received some training from a Langford Vets anaesthetist on sustainable anaesthesia, our nurses still need training as their session was cancelled due to lockdown. We have been using the Humphrey ADE-circle anaesthetic system for some time, which means that we are already able to use lower flow rates.

Paper usage

  • We are encouraging double-sided printing where possible;
  • We have stopped printing invoices for zero fee visits e.g. post op checks. When we asked clients if they require an invoice for small waiting room purchases, we found that most clients don’t want an invoice for minor transactions.
  • We switched to increased email communication with clients. We were looking into this just before lockdown, and the COVID-19 crisis accelerated this change.

Use of more environmentally-friendly products

  • We switched to B Braun recyclable drip bags. Frustratingly our waste recycling providers cannot take these at present due to the COVID-19 crisis (all medical waste is deemed to be potentially infectious);
  • We are now using bamboo toothbrushes as standard in our post dental treatment packs, waiting room merchandise and also to clean clippers;
  • We have switched to using fabric theatre hats and recently also fabric masks, where staff have their own. We are looking into practice versions too and have some trial Garston theatre hats.

Transport

We have certainly reduced business mileage in the past few months, as we have done virtually all CPD and several management and clinical meetings online. Hopefully we will carry on with a lot of this long-term. The pandemic has been awful in so many ways, but there are a few environmental positives at least.

Recycling

Ours was initially a bit of a mess, no-one was clear about how it should work and we were all doing different things. Having multiple surgeries, as well as more than one provider, made things a lot more complicated to sort out. We have finally progressed with this and achieved the following:

  • Recycling containers are now all labelled with details of what items to put in each one;
  • A recycling protocol has been introduced including a detailed list of what is recycled in each branch, as there are still some minor variations between branches.
  • A big breakthrough was discovering that our main supplier can recycle all cardboard for us free of charge! As this is so bulky, the volume of dry mixed recycling that we produce has subsequently dropped markedly, and we are now in the process of reducing size +/- frequency of paid-for recycling collections.
  • We have started recycling for some local community and charity projects. Terracycling: cat food pouches and all dry food bags from the practice are taken to a local cattery who recycle them to raise money for pet charities. Plastic lids: also collected for charity, as well as being sent to a local business who are the only company in the UK to make boarding from recycled plastic to use for making animal housing, advertising boarding, washrooms etc.


When I first started “thinking green,” I must admit that I was a bit worried about how well the idea would be received at Garston. However I have been pleasantly surprised at the positive responses that we have had. As you can see from the size of our Go Green group, we have lots of staff who are interested in sustainability. We try and have a very inclusive policy; some of our Green Group like to be actively involved, others have a more supportive role - but they are all truly valued. We have had lots of help from non-Green group members too.

"Partners have been very supportive and consider our group to be an asset to the practice. Virtually all of our initiatives so far have saved the practice money, and the fact that we have our own green group has been seen in a very positive light by most new recruits to the business."

Clients are not yet aware of our new group, but we are planning to introduce a Green Corner on our quarterly newsletter and post on social media etc very soon. The Frome area has a wealth of other green initiatives, so we expect this to be well received.

Our main vision for the future is to try and get as many of the great ideas suggested by our Go Green members up and running as we possibly can! Looking at clinical waste and procurement are other larger projects that we would like to tackle soon, as well as improving the initiatives that we have already put in place - they still need plenty of work.

I would advise other practices that are trying to become more sustainable not to be worried about having little or no starting knowledge, we are certainly far from expert and have still managed to significantly improve the sustainability of our practice in a relatively short space of time.

"If lots of us are making small steady improvements, it will have far more impact than just one or two of us doing things perfectly."

Sustainable(ish) run by Jen Gale (a Vet Sustain Ambassador) - is the way forward I think. We have had great vet-specific advice/information from Davies Veterinary Specialists, Webinar Vet, Investors in the Environment and of course the Vet Sustain website, which has lots of links to useful resources.