Going Green at Orchard Park Veterinary Medical Center: How we made our hospital more environmentally friendly

Orchard Park Veterinary

On May 18, 2008 Orchard Park Veterinary Medical Center opened the doors to its brand new 22,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility. Since 1991 the hospital has been a 24 hour hospital serving primary care, referral and emergency clients and patients. The new facility has long been a dream and eventually became a reality. Moving into any new home is a new beginning; a chance to do things and make them look exactly how you want them. Finally the look of the building reflects the level of veterinary care that pets receive.

As you enter the very spacious public area of the hospital you feel as though you have stepped into a park. There are earth-tones, greens and blues that evoke feelings of the outdoors. Even our logo is designed shades of green and makes one think of a park. There are bird sounds that are just loud enough to make your mind wander a bit to the outdoors. Hospitals can very easily be off-putting, cold and un-inviting but this couldn’t be further from the truth here at OPVMC. All of this acts as a gateway to the cutting edge medical center that is a few steps away from the front office.

What hasn’t changed is that the nature of a 24 hour veterinary hospital is one that tends to not be very eco-friendly: excessive water usage for cleaning and washing laundry, lights on at all hours, electricity being used for equipment, paper, paper and more paper as well as plastic, glass and metal waste. As we moved into the new building we aimed to make what we do less impactful on the environment. In fact, moving into a new building was the perfect opportunity to make one’s carbon footprint smaller. Doing so requires great thought and planning. Unfortunately, going totally green also requires a lot of “green$$” too so we aimed to make choices that didn’t always affect the bottom line but rather met somewhere in the middle. Many of the measures cost nothing at all. Those that involve the physical building and construction required careful planning from the get-go.

The building that we moved into was a former Super Duper grocery store that sat vacant for at least 15 years. Outfitting this existing shell of a building in and of itself is recycling. We chose not to tear down the existing shell either and this prevented all of that construction waste from entering a landfill and sitting there for ages. So often in the Western New York area there are vacant buildings that sit empty and unused for years with “for lease” or “available” signs on them. Developers then, after destroying green space, build new buildings before those that are already vacant are ever leased and occupied. Building these “vacant” shells is a waste of resources that are becoming more scarce and expensive by the minute. By designing the inside of an already existing building to meet the needs of a veterinary hospital saves resources, money and time.

Depending on the season 22,000 square feet is a very large space to ventilate, heat and air condition, which can vary sometimes day to day, hour to hour in WNY. With close to 120 employees and all the patients that are in the hospital, thermoregulation is very important to the well-being of all of them. Installed on the roof are 10 HVAC (heating/ventilation/AC) units that are energy efficient and divide the building up into zones to meet the needs of the various areas of the hospital. Having units that are energy efficient is both good for the environment and good for cutting down the cost of running a building of this size 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. At the old building thermoregulation was incredibly difficult because of the building being old and retro-fitted to accommodate a veterinary hospital. There really were no “zones” per se and often air conditioning and heat seemed to be running simultaneously, or air conditioning was running with open windows depending on where in the building you were. Thankfully this is no longer the case.

As you can imagine there are a lot of lights in such a large building that is operational on a 24 hour schedule and yes many of them need to be on 24 hours. To help alleviate this strain on both energy and cost we installed motion sensitive lights in many of the rooms. The lights automatically shut off after 5 minutes if no one is in the room. Many of the areas that are lit with fluorescent lights also have the option of having only 1 bulb, 2 bulbs or all 3 bulbs on depending on the needs for that area-“dimming” if you will. Fluorescent lights in and of themselves are more energy efficient but having “dimming” capabilities is even better. One of the nicest elements in the new building is the addition of natural light. The large windows surrounding the front office make the public area much more inviting and decrease the need for artificial light. This is also the case in many of the offices as well. Two very large skylights in treatment and one in the lab bring that much needed natural light to medical areas that can be typically cold and sterile. These too decrease the amount of artificial light that is used.

As mentioned earlier the hospital produces a lot of waste that could potentially be thrown away and occupy landfills for hundreds of years. The list of waste that is most prevalent at OPVMC isn’t unique in that it includes but is not limited to: paper, cardboard, plastic (bottles, containers, etc), glass and metal. It is a combination of by-products from having a staff of ~120 (pop and water bottles, paper) and running a 24 hour veterinary hospital (office paper, empty drug containers, cardboard, shipping supplies, empty printer ink cartridges, and the list goes on and on). To combat this potential waste we have made every effort to make recycling more user-friendly and accessible. While most people are used to recycling at home it is, for most, something new in the work place. As a result we did meet a fair bit of resistance initially but have changed the culture now where recycling is second nature. While we had been recycling for quite some time at the old building, the layout of the building itself did not always make it easy. The new building allowed us to do just that. By making recycling easier and more accessible the compliance has gone up quite a bit. For the few people that didn’t recycle at home they too have started to do so because they have gotten used to doing it at work.

The following steps have been taken to recycle the above mentioned items:

  • Paper: there are paper recycling bins/boxes in all areas of the hospital including but not limited to the front office, administrative offices, all medical areas, the lab, and staff lounge. Paper that is collected includes office paper, magazines, junk mail, newspaper, packing paper material, etc and is placed in an Paper Retriever (those familiar and ubiquitous green and yellow dumpsters). Employees are also encouraged to bring paper from home as well. Any sensitive documents in the office are shredded and put into the Paper Retriever as well. The timing of the move was perfect as there was a large amount of paper that we did not need to move with us and it went into the recycling dumpster. We are helping both pets and the environment at the same time. Excellent! In 2010 we migrated all of our paper records to electronic medical records which allowed us to go paper “lite” because even when electronic there is still some amount of paper that needs to be used in an office. In 2015 we became even more fully electronic in terms of records due to an upgrade in our practice management software, ezyVet (medical records, invoicing, scheduling, etc). Having fully integrated veterinary practice management software has helped us automate many of our day to day workflows. As a result we will decrease the amount of paper we use even more. We also use electronic ICU sheets called Smart Flowsheet, (as opposed to paper) for all of our hospitalized patients which allows us to effectively and efficiently treat our patients and communicate treatments as well as progress to anyone in the hospital in real time. Smart Flowsheet is also intergrated with ezyVet which allows us to capture all charges for hospitalized patients and in turn no longer use paper travel sheets to do so.
  • Cardboard: this is an item that we have quite a lot of due to the large amount of inventory that we carry. Everything we use is shipped here in cardboard. Luckily we have been recycling this for a long time as well and continue to do so at the new building.
  • Plastic, Glass & Metal: in the areas that produce the most amount of this type of waste (staff lounge, food prep, treatment/ICU and pharmacy for example) there are recycling bins as well. All of the material to be recycled is collected and picked up by Waste Management. We have been collecting bottles that have a deposit and are returnable for a long time but having the bins next to the pop machine in the lounge has helped out immensely.
  • Empty Printer Ink Cartridges and Laser Toner Cartridges: using a lot of paper in an office goes hand in hand with using a lot of ink. The by-product of this is a lot of empty plastic ink cartridges and laser toner cartridges that would take up a lot of space in a landfill. We send all of our used cartridges to a company that recycles them and gives us money in return to donate to a charity. The money raised also goes to the Pet Emergency Fund. Please visit www.recycle4charity.com for more information on this program. We also collect old cell phones and send them to the same company and they in turn send us money for those as well that we donate to the Pet Emergency Fund.
  • Electronics Recycling: since 2014 we have been recycling old and broken (even some new yet unwanted) electronics from our office and from employees. In the first 3 years we have recycled 6762 pounds (that’s nearly 3.5 tons!) of electronics that would otherwise have gone into a landfill or taken up room in houses. More importantly we recycle the electronics through Sunnking Electronics that donates the money they make on recycling the items to Camp Good Days and Special Times.
  • Green Cleaning Products: As you can imagine we use a lot of cleaning products in veterinary medicine to disinfect and prevent tranmission of diseases. Many of them can be harsh on the environment and for people/pets. Recently we switched to Hydrogen Peroxide (made of hydrogen and oxygen) based cleaning products that work as well as if not better than the other typical cleaning products that are quaternary ammonia based.