At Ethos being green is more than the color of our logo, it’s a state of mind! We deeply respect the human-animal bond and realize that taking care of our planet is at the core of that relationship. Veterinary hospitals use energy and generate waste in the normal course of a day, just like everyone else. We have chosen to dedicate ourselves to decreasing our environmental impact, while continuing to provide quality care to our clients and patients.
We have been making changes both big and small across the organization for years. In honor of Earth Week, we’d like to highlight some of the more wide-ranging changes we made at our hospitals in 2021 and (so far) in 2022 to raise awareness and take actionable steps for the protection of this planet we share.
Transportation and product shipments take a huge toll on the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), transportation accounted for approximately 1.9 billion tons of CO2 emissions in 2020. Also, an estimated 100 billion cardboard boxes are used in the United States every year to ship packages, and a single pound of cardboard is made with six gallons of water. Cardboard production contributes to deforestation, which results in animal extinction, ecosystem destruction, and climate change. Thirty million acres of forest are lost every year, and 35% of the trees are used in paper product manufacturing.
In July 2021, we partnered with MWI Veterinary Supply, our largest distributor, to initiate a consolidation program to reduce our daily deliveries. This program will reduce solid waste and greenhouse gas production, while conserving water and energy. In the initiative’s first five months, we reduced our packages by 951 pounds and packing materials by 1,464 pounds. This has saved:
- 270 pounds in solid waste*
- 2,150 carbon dioxide equivalents*
- 10 BTUs of energy*
- 8,720 gallons of water*
*calculated using the Environmental Paper Network Paper Calculator Version 4.0
According to the EPA, most discarded batteries end up in landfills. This results in heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, contaminating the air, soil, and groundwater.
At Ethos, we frequently use batteries to power medical devices such as:
- Patient monitors
- Blood gas monitors
- Portable blood analyzers
To ensure we don’t cause environmental contamination with our discarded batteries, we have partnered with Battery Solutions to establish a program so our hospitals can quickly and easily recycle batteries. Battery Solutions collects the discarded batteries from our hospitals and recycles them properly. Team members are also encouraged to bring batteries from home.
Ultimately the goal is to keep batteries of all types out of the landfill regardless of where those batteries were used! Making recycling easy is all it takes sometimes!
Biodegradable Pharmacy Bags
Approximately one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year, yet only about 5% of all plastic is recycled. According to the EPA, the United States uses more than 380 billion plastic bags yearly, and most are improperly discarded and carried to streams and rivers, eventually finding their way into the ocean.
Turtles, seabirds, fish, and other marine animals can mistake the plastic for food, become severely ill, and potentially die. In addition, these animals can become entangled in the plastic, leading to exhaustion, starvation, and death.
In the past we had been using mostly plastic bags at our hospitals. Following a 2021 internal audit by our Sustainability Group, we discovered that we were using in excess of 95,000 plastic pharmacy bags each year. To remedy this, we partnered with Hill’s Pet Nutrition and OfficeMax to replace plastic bags with a biodegradable pharmacy bags.
Our hope is that the new co-branded, compostable bags will reinforce our commitment to sustainability, reduce our impact on the planet, and encourage others in the veterinary-industry, our clients and team members to make similar changes in their lives.
Energy- and Water-efficient Laundry Equipment
Nobody talks about how much laundry we do at veterinary hospitals! Well, at Ethos we do thousands of laundry loads each year to ensure bedding and towels are sanitized, and while laundry is an important part of operations, the washing machines negatively impact the environment.
The average top-load washing machine uses about 40 gallons of water per cycle, accounting for 17% of U.S. water consumption. Also, according to the Journal of Integrative Environmental Studies, U.S. residential laundering emits about 142 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and consumes 847 billion gallons of water per year.
To mitigate this impact, Ethos partnered with Girbau North America, a green certified manufacturer and ISO 14001 certified company, to install high quality and efficient commercial laundry equipment in our hospitals. These new washing machines are not only manufactured in an environmentally friendly manner, but are also energy star qualified. They use 57% less water than most top load commercial washers, save about 20 gallons of water per load, and use less electricity. In addition, their high speed extracts more water from the load, decreasing drying time by 65%. This new equipment will dramatically decrease the amount of water and energy we use for laundry.
Environmentally Friendly Disinfectants
We also go through a lot of disinfectants at veterinary hospitals. They are the first line of defense against inactivate pathogens that cause infection, but these products can harm the environment.
To be kinder to our planet, our hospitals now carry Rescue Disinfectant. It is formulated using a patented blend of safe ingredients combined with low hydrogen peroxide levels, to kill pathogens in half the time of other disinfectants. The hydrogen peroxide decomposes to water and oxygen, leaving no active residue, so the environmental impact is minimal. Rescue has the lowest toxicity rating available per the EPA. In addition, Rescue’s manufacturer, Virox, was the first chemical company to manufacture their products in a LEED-certified facility, meaning that eco-friendly actions were taken when designing, constructing, and using their plant.
Compostable Pill Bottles
Most pill vials are made of polypropylene, a recyclable plastic, but most recycling systems are unable to recycle them properly. Typically, recyclables are sorted with a screening device called a trommel, which has small holes to remove small miscellaneous objects so the remaining bottles and cans can continue through the process to be recycled. Most pill bottles are small enough to fall through these holes, and as a result, often end up in landfills.
Ethos uses more than 200,000 pill vials each year, equating to about 4.25 tons of plastic. In March 2022, we replaced our plastic vials with biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA) pill vials. PLA is a thermoplastic manufactured from renewable organic sources that can be produced using 65% less energy than the production of petroleum-based plastics, and also produces fewer greenhouse gasses. These new bottles are FDA and USDA approved, and look and feel like plastic, but are derived from 100% plant sources. The bottles break down in three to six months when exposed to the elements, which means pet owners can discard these bottles at their local composting facility or in their personal compost bin.
Ethos is dedicated to leading the veterinary industry in promoting sustainability, and we will continue to discover ways to be kinder to our planet. We have even more initiatives planned for the rest of the year, and years to come. Our dedication to sustainable practices is tied to our love for the environment and the natural world we share with our families and pets.