GREENING YOUR LABORATORY

By Julie Bos

Environmental sustainability: It’s on every lab’s mind, and for good reason. Today’s optical shops know that eco-friendly practices can have a powerful impact not only on the planet, but also on their productivity and in turn, their profitability.

But delve a little deeper and you’ll soon discover something else. While most labs are interested and willing to move their sustainability forward, many are also stumped on exactly what to do next.

Fortunately, The Vision Council recognized this challenge and has taken a bold step to help resolve it. During a recent conversation with Michael C. Vitale, lens division liaison, we’ve learned about a new initiative from The Vision Council that can help labs take their sustainability efforts to the next level. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

WHY ARE TODAY’S LABS SO INTERESTED IN SUSTAINABILITY (OR IF THEY’RE NOT, WHY   SHOULD THEY BE)?

If businesses would take steps to become more sustainable, their bottom line would improve and so would the environment. It goes beyond “going green” to also cover our impact and responsibility to the communities where we work and live. The majority of labs that we’ve spoken to are concerned about ways they can become more environmentally friendly and in the process reduce their operating expenses.

ARE MOST LABS ALREADY TAKING STEPS TO BECOME GREENER? WHAT’S HOLDING OTHERS BACK?

Many labs have already implemented sustainability projects, such as recycling paper and cardboard products, reducing water consumption by utilizing filtration systems for the machinery, changing their lighting and even attempting to go paperless.

However, one key challenge is a shortage of ideas on how to become more sustainable. Another issue is always the initial cost. Implementing sustainability projects does not necessarily give an immediate return on investment, but the long-term gains are definitely there.

HOW IS THE VISION COUNCIL OF AMERICA HELPING LABS OVERCOME THIS ROADBLOCK?

I believe that today’s labs want to find ways to drive sustainability, but many don’t know how to get started. This lack of information is a big part of the reason why our Sustainability Committee was formed.

Initially, this committee began as a task force several years ago to help members look for ways to reduce polycarbonate waste. However, we quickly realized there were so many things to address, this task force really needed to become an ongoing committee to offer ongoing support to find ways to increase energy efficiency and reduce waste while improving service to our customers.

Today, the group has grown to include 30 members of The Vision Council, representing various facets of the industry, including equipment manufacturers, lens manufacturers, raw materials manufacturers, wholesale labs and large retailers.

TELL US ABOUT THE VISION COUNCIL’S NEWEST   RESOURCE—THE SUSTAINABILITY COMMITTEE’S ONLINE PORTAL. WHAT IS IT AND HOW CAN IT BENEFIT LABS?

One thing I’ve always loved about this industry is the fact that labs will share with their competitors, even in the same city. We’ve always been that way. Whether a lab needs an out-of-stock supply or a good idea for solving a problem, other labs are usually quick to help.

This was the thinking behind creating our new Sustainability Committee portal, located at thevisioncouncil.org. We wanted to create a place where member laboratories could share proven sustainability ideas within the industry—what they’re doing to reduce electricity, reduce water usage and other things that are working for them. The more members sharing their stories, the more labs can see what works for other labs, and we’ll have a positive snowball effect. That’s what we’re hoping for. It’s a way to share best practices, to inspire ingenuity, and to help all labs save money while taking care of the environment.

The portal was just rolled out at Vision Expo West last October, so it’s in its infancy. However, if members go to the site and read some ideas, we hope they’ll realize that it’s pretty easy to share a recommendation. As it grows and houses more content, this site will become an even more valuable resources for members. The key is simple—member participation. The more ideas that are shared, the more opportunity we all have to benefit.

WHAT EXACTLY WILL LABS FIND ON THIS SITE?

We post documents that present members’ best “green” practices and areas for improvement within our industry. Recent topics of discussion have included water conservation, parts recycling, motion sensors, lens box recycling and swarf recycling. Other members can read these success stories and gain new knowledge of how they can duplicate the same process in their own labs.

We encourage contributing members to not only share their contact information, but also the names of any outside vendors who helped execute the idea. Therefore, other labs who decide to implement a similar process will have the access to the same resources, including vendor names, products and specific part numbers that were used.

HOW CAN LABS ACCESS THE PORTAL?

Labs must be members of The Vision Council to access the site, located at thevisioncouncil.org. Once logged in, they can select Committees (in the left-hand navigation bar); then select Technical Committees, then Sustainability Committee.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES LABS ARE FACING RIGHT NOW, IN RELATION TO   SUSTAINABILITY?

One of biggest issues that the industry continues to wrestle with is dealing with polycarbonate swarf. The debris generated from grinding polycarbonate lenses is bulky and currently, there’s no permanent viable outlet for recycling it.

As a result of the typical generating process, polycarbonate swarf is usually mixed with other things, such as CR39 resin, high-index resin and mid-index resin. These materials add impurities and make the swarf hard to reuse. Even if a large lens lab dedicated an entire line exclusively to generating polycarbonate lenses, that swarf still isn’t totally pure. It often picks up traces of surface-saver tape, 117° alloy and grinding coolant, making it of little value to anyone else. Without finding a way to clean it, we will have a hard time finding a way to get it recycled.

WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

Our members should continue to work in their local communities and look for people and businesses that might be able to use this swarf in some practical application. These are the types of opportunities we’re hoping will be posted on the portal, so others can use them, too.

IN ORDER TO BECOME GREENER, WHAT AREAS SHOULD LABS BE TAKING A HARD LOOK AT?

There are tons of ideas. They could consider recycling all available waste streams, checking the efficiency of their water and air systems, maintaining the water and air systems, passive lighting systems, and evaluating energy-saving air compressors and pumps.

HOW DO THEY BEGIN OR TAKE THEIR PROCESS   TO THE NEXT STEP?

I would encourage labs to get their employees involved and get their ideas. Then, start with the trash and ask: What are you throwing away that’s valuable? Next, look at energy bills and ask: What makes the meter turn unnecessarily?

WHAT DO LAB MANAGERS AND OWNERS NEED   TO KNOW IN ORDER TO BE MORE EFFECTIVE WITH GREEN INITIATIVES?

They have to track it. Once they begin the process, keeping track of what is being done and the savings incurred (both dollars and the environmental impact) is the key to being successful. They should also share those successes with employees.

WHY SHOULD TODAY’S OPTICAL LABS CONSIDER   IMPLEMENTING A SUSTAINABILITY PLAN--OR TAKE STEPS TO GET MORE AGGRESSIVE WITH THEIR EFFORTS?

Simply put, it’s good business! There are many ways to save energy, reduce waste and help our communities. And most of these ideas have a positive impact on the bottom line, as well as giving the satisfaction of making good choices with the resources entrusted to us as business leaders.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR LABS?

Energy savings, reductions in waste expense, increases in recycling income and more efficient production—and that’s just the start. Lab employees enjoy the success that comes from saving resources. Plus the benefit of good will in our industry and community is priceless.

IS THERE A COST BENEFIT?

Absolutely! Any lab can find ways to improve and save money. We even have documented cases where what was once a cost for disposable actually turned into a revenue stream.

Right now, the Sustainability Committee portal has five examples of success stories. In one case, Essilor demonstrated water conservation in the laboratories. In two others, Walmart achieves great results with parts recycling and installed motion-sensors to reduce electricity. Another lab found success with lens box recycling; and Carl Zeiss in Mexico found a way to perform swarf recycling that generated income. To read the full success stories, go to the Sustainability Committee’s portal on thevisioncouncil.org site today.

WHO SHOULD LABS CONTACT FOR MORE   INFORMATION OR GUIDANCE?

Labs should talk to their fellow Vision Council Lab Division members. They should listen to what they have done and how it has impacted their businesses. Labs can also reach out to any of the members of the Sustainability Committee, or contact me directly at mvitale@thevisioncouncil.org or (703) 548-2684.

 

WORKING IN CALIFORNIA? THIS NEWS IS FOR YOU

If you live in sunny California, the sustainability effort is getting real. On Oct. 1, 2013, California implemented a law where by companies that manufacture certain consumer products may have to review whether they can make those products safer by using different, less toxic or nontoxic ingredients. Starting in April 2014, the state—through its California Safer Consumer Products Law, also known as the Green Chemistry Initiative—will be identifying classes of consumer products and directing manufacturers of those products to look to reformulate them using green chemistry.

The Vision Council and its Government & Regulatory Affairs team will continue to monitor the roll-out of this law and will inform members once the initial list of priority products has been issued.

CURRENT ISSUE


Labtalk May/June 2018