Case Study: Milton Keynes Vets4Pets
Alison Sweeting is the Practice Manager at Vets4Pets Milton Keynes. They are a 10 vet practice with a team of 25 support colleagues. They are the only first opinion practice to have obtained Green Investors in the Environment accreditation. One of only 6 practices in the UK to achieve this and the first Vets4Pets practice. Here she tells us how she and her colleagues started out on their sustainability journey.
We have a great team who are as passionate about delivering exceptional clinical care to our clients and their pets and creating a great place to work as they are about how we help the environment and our local community.
When we started talking about how we could become more environmentally friendly we quickly realised we didn’t really know where to start, or how to create a plan that worked for us and made a tangible difference. We decided to start by researching and attending CPD on the environment and pre COVID we attended some events on how as a veterinary practice we could start to make a difference. We came back from the sessions motivated and with a clearer idea on how to begin.
So how did we do it?
First, we set up a team with colleagues from all roles and levels who would have ownership over our approach. We called ourselves the Proactive Environment Team; “ PET” for short! We wanted everyone to be able to have an input with any idea no matter how small or large. Initially we started by identifying all the opportunities for change and then mapping them out into easy, medium and hard! We registered with Investors in the Environment for their bronze accreditation and with this came some great resources and spreadsheets and a way to help us see what we were achieving.
Being a competitive team (like most vet practices!) we wanted to know what our impact was so the first job was to audit our resources. We looked at energy, waste, paper, and travel and by using a carbon footprint calculator, we knew our starting point. We then set ourselves targets as to how we could reduce all of these.
At our CPD we learnt the biggest thing we could do to reduce carbon was reduce General Anaesthetic gas usage. The carbon footprint of Anaesthetic gasses is nearly always the most significant cause of emissions in practices.
We spoke with a RCVS recognised specialist in anaesthesia who gave us some great tips. They included making sure we used our Capnograph and keeping flows to a minimum. We changed our GA protocols to include using circles, more pain relief and actively looked for more opportunities to use local anaesthesia more which all helped achieve our aim of reducing flow rates.
Every Little Helps!
Once COVID arrived we had to find different ways of interacting with our clients and this pushed us to use a variety of different ways to communicate. Many of the changes we have kept and they include;
Emailing information rather than printing it or buying leaflets
Virtual welcome packs
Laminating hospital sheets so we can re-use
Contacting all the veterinary print companies and stopping paper versions being sent to every individual in the practice
Printing double sided if we need to and in greyscale
Sending client’s invoices, letters, receipts, and information by email unless they ask us otherwise
Using recycled paper
From a surgical perspective;
In theatre we have stopped using over shoes, we wear washable Crocs
We use re-usable masks and gowns
We have introduced more energy efficient ways to maintain warmth for pets being operated on, such as wrapping them up before the procedure, making sure that there is matting on the steel kennel floors etc
We use Sterilium to scrub up as this reduces our water usage
We looked at how to reduce travel to the practice for our colleagues and clients. Changes made include;
Changing rota’s so colleagues could car share
Stopping split shifts to avoid double travel to work
Changing our work van for an electric car
Utilising the Group cycle to work scheme to help encourage people to cycle to work
Sending products out by post so there are fewer client trips
Checking wounds and small ailments via virtual consults or digital means
Reducing the number of trips made by placing bigger orders less often for consumables
Other things we have done are;
Setting up recycle schemes for Crisp packets and blister packs. It is amazing how quickly you can get significant donations
Clearly marking all the bins in practice to help process clinical waste correctly
Introducing Bio Bins where possible
Putting up signs encouraging colleagues to turn off the lights and equipment when not in use
Changing to LED lightbulbs
One additional benefit is nearly everything has had financial benefits to the practice – we create less clinical waste which saves money and our energy bills are lower! Lots of the team love the changes we made to shifts so everything has engaged the team in different ways for different reasons.
Change in practice takes a while as we have a big team. Helping everyone to understand what is happening and why and most importantly making sure they feel a part of it has been critical. We made sure we gradually adopted our new ways of working and took things one or two at a time. Our ‘PET’ committee communicates regularly and gets feedback.
Spreading The Word
We wanted to shout about all the things we had been learning. Although we are an individually run practice, we are part of the wider Vets4Pets group. Being able to access support via our support office was a bonus.
Our work happened to coincide with the Group developing and launching their Our Better World Pledge. This is all part of how we collectively work together across the Group to become the most responsible pet care business in the world. Everything is focused on three areas: pets, people and planet, each with an ambitious, long-term goal.
Pets - To positively impact the life of every pet in the UK by 2030
People - To enhance the lives of one million people by 2030, through our shared love of pets
Planet - To become net zero by 2040
To support the vision in practices an Our Better World Pledge Vet Group Committee was created. We had definitely made sure we were being noticed with our sustainability efforts and were invited to join the inaugural committee. With members from practices, and the support office we all come at problems from different angles with different expertise. We have access to around 450 practices so it is a huge platform where we can share our learning and learn from others.
We have also set up a Vets4Pets goes Green Facebook page open to any colleague. We wanted all the other practices to be able to see and share anything they had done in practice with the wider team. We currently have 315 members which is nearly a colleague in every practice!
The joint project I am proudest of is our Vets4Pets and Woodland Trust Pet Memory Scheme. Practices opt in to make donations on behalf of our clients who sadly have to say goodbye to their pets. As a collective we have to date raised over £1750,00 which is helping to re wild our woodlands. Such a great way to give back.
We really believe it is important to share all your changes and improvements with your clients. It helps to build your reputation and stands you out from other practices. We use our Facebook page to share any news about our pledge to become a greener practice. Clients are invested in becoming greener too and they like to see that we are committed to driving change.
Investors In the Environment
We registered with the iiE as we wanted to be able to work towards a specific goal. The Investors have bronze, silver and green awards. We produced our own environmental policy, audited and made action plans for waste, travel, paper and energy. Our hard work paid off when we were awarded SILVER in our first year, never mind the bronze we were aiming for!
We hope that more and more practices across the UK, regardless of ownership model start out on their sustainability journey. It’s been great for team moral, it’s improved our profitability, been good for our pets and clients and most crucially of all we know we are playing our small part in reducing our impact on the natural world.