Meet Laura Binnie, Vet & Sustainability Lead at Paragon Veterinary Group
Hi! Please tell us who you are and what you do.
Hi, I’m Laura, I am small animal vet and sustainability lead at Paragon Veterinary Group
Please briefly describe your current role and professional interests?
I am a small animal general practice vet most of the time but I am also the lead on Paragon's Sustainability Project which allows me to make the changes needed for us to become a more sustainable business. We have a green group that works together to make these changes reality. We are always looking to improve the biodiversity in our local area. One of my pet hates is how damaging the use of the anaesthetic gas isoflurane is on the environment. We have worked really hard to reduce our use of this gas by retraining the team and purchasing equipment to allow us to do this safely.
What does a typical day look like for you?
On a normal day, if there is such a beast in veterinary practice, I start by attending rounds in our hospital, I will then either be operating or consulting in the mornings, then consulting again in the afternoon and evenings (at our main branch or one of our of smaller surgeries). We do our own out of hours at Paragon so I'll sometimes be on a late surgery then on call for emergencies and seeing to inpatients. As a lead I get some time set aside for administration jobs where I work on our Sustainability Project, have meetings, attend conferences, speak to our PR guys about stories they want to run, research or apply for awards etc. There never seems enough time in the day to do it all.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I love talking to people at work about our new sustainability initiatives and discussing new ideas we could trial, running a project on one's own must be very daunting and I realise I am lucky to have an excellent green group to bounce ideas off and help us along this journey. I really appreciate being given the freedom by my practice to implement changes that will make a difference to our own carbon footprint and have wider reaching benefits. I love being part of many sustainability communities and coming away from interactions with these groups feeling really inspired about the positive changes we can make. I really enjoy interacting with and teaching our local school children about our planet and what we can do to help improve biodiversity and be less wasteful. I really enjoy setting myself goals and working towards them, we were recently the first practice to be awarded the RCVS PSS Environmental Sustainability award, this took a lot of work but it was really interesting and worthwhile. I also still enjoy being a vet, in particular soft tissue surgery (even better knowing it's being done under as environmentally sustainable GA as possible!). It's great to get chatting to our clients about how they can be reducing their pet's paw print and letting them know all the climate positive things we are doing as a practice.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Balancing everything is a real challenge for me, I am a self confessed 'magpie', I like to take on shiny new tasks that excite me, then I realise I might not have enough time to do them all, or as well as I would like to. I do find I have to rein myself in sometimes from taking on too much. Also, realising not everyone is as enthusiastic as I am about sustainability and giving them time to adjust to new initiatives and sometimes having to accept some negative feedback. Communication and patience are key to getting people on board (and maintaining this) with change, I work quite fast paced sometimes and can get a bit carried away that admittedly this slips sometimes. Getting a balance between being a good vet and an effective sustainability lead is my biggest challenge. One I am always working on!
Do you have any tips for achieving a good work-life balance?
This is a really hard one to answer! I'm not sure I do this particularly well, I could always do with a few more hours in the day. I guess try to remember that Rome wasn't built in a day and that tomorrow is another day! I could do better at delegating tasks to those that are willing to help, not getting too bogged down in the small stuff, and not taking on too much.
How do veterinary professionals currently help to drive sustainability?
It is widely agreed that vets are perfectly situated to have a really positive impact on One Health, sitting at the intersection of human, animal and planet health. We are a trusted profession, we can advocate for best practice for the animals we care for but also best practice for the planet. We are scientists and have a sound understanding of the challenges our planet is facing. We are often faced with problems we don't immediately have the answers to and are well practiced at doing the necessary reading and research to find those solutions. Working groups such as Vet Sustain's Greener Veterinary Practice Working Group is an excellent example of how veterinary professionals come together for the greater good, working on solutions to the challenges the veterinary profession is facing. In my opinion, this is collaboration at its best! We have a duty of care to uphold the health and wellbeing of all animals, including wildlife and by using our due diligence we will improve biodiversity and uphold welfare standards. We have access to strong voices such as the BVA that are able to lobby government to do more.
What do you feel are the major opportunities to drive sustainability in the veterinary sector?
Applying collective pressures to the suppliers, wholesalers and pharmaceutical companies we work with will ultimately drive a more sustainable supply chain. The more we ask (and the more of us that ask) the more they will have to change their practices to satisfy their clients, i.e. us and become more sustainable. The veterinary sector has a strong voice and can demand change to happen. Capital, by being a more sustainable business can often mean fewer outgoings which can save money. Education of our qualified vets to empower them to have the conversations needed with our clients and land owners to encourage them to reduce their own carbon footprints. Embedding sustainability into the veterinary curriculum so we have a new wave of vets coming out of university knowing how to and expecting to be more sustainable in their practice.
What are your top tips for veterinary professionals wishing to take the first steps to drive sustainability in their roles?
Put the feelers out to the management board members to see if there is any appetite for building sustainability into the ethos of the business, it will make life a lot easier if you have someone in senior management to support you. If, initially, there doesn't seem to be any interest for sustainability within the business, try putting together a business case to demonstrate to them how being more sustainable in their practice can (and will) save them money. Understand that they will need to spend some money to make these changes but in time the benefits will be realised and things will grow from there. Include in the business case the fact that staff retention and recruitment is higher in practices with a sustainability plan. Being a practice with green credentials will raise their profile and be more attractive to new clients. Highlight the benefits of including some green spaces around or within the buildings, for our mental health and our local biodiversity, clients will appreciate these too. Get a few green thinking staff members together and start forming a green group, and don't feel you have to do everything all at once, shifting the culture within a business isn't going to happen overnight but keep at it, you will get there. There are loads of sustainability groups you could join, Vet Sustain Practice Champions is a really great group to be part of when starting out on a new venture such as this.
If you could wave a magic wand and make one improvement to drive the sustainability impact of the veterinary profession, what would it be?
From a small animal point of view, I think it would have to be the use of parasiticides (POM-V and over the counter), whether this comes from BVA, BSAVA, or higher in government to lobby the big pharma companies and ban the use of blanket parasiticide use. We've achieved this in agriculture but we need to do more. This would have a huge impact on improving our biodiversity and wider reaching crises we are facing. Not an area I have much expertise in, but I think a greater impact could be made by improving our farm clients' (the so called 'custodians of the land') involvement in regenerative agriculture and sustainable farming practices, woodland and wildlife habitat creation. To do this we need to educate ourselves to improve our own knowledge and therefore our confidence in having these conversations with our clients and going further to encourage the government to make this law.