Going Green and Saving Green: Create a More Eco-Friendly & Profitable Lab

By Julie Bos
Every day, we’re met head-on with the cold hard facts on how our actions impact the environment. From radio spots encouraging recycling to throngs of hybrid vehicles on the market to water conservation efforts, we’re reminded of the harmful consequences of global warming and the benefits of environmental sustainability.

Despite the media bombardment, does your lab still feel a bit helpless when it comes to making a real difference in the health of planet Earth? If so, you’re not alone. The good news is that ongoing concern for the environment is prompting an increasing number of lens labs to focus on becoming more eco-friendly. What’s more, many are discovering ways to save some serious cash while they’re taking steps to heal the planet.

We’ve compiled several practical strategies that can help your lab make some forward progress with its eco-friendly efforts—and may also help you put a dent in your ongoing expenses.

Strategy #1: Make a Serious Commitment to Going Green

The first step to going green is simply to decide that you’re going to do it. Get buy-in from your executive leaders, create a plan and perhaps even get a signed statement from your team. While it does take some work to do things differently, the payoff can be big.

For example, improved waste-segregation efforts can increase regulatory compliance and reduce costs, which will not only benefit your lab but will play a part in the larger picture too—you’ll be helping conserve energy and the oil necessary to transport and dispose of the waste. Plus, transitioning to less toxic chemicals can improve safety and air quality.

Strategy #2: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Recycling doesn’t begin and end with aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Good laboratory practices can also include:

Reducing Paper

One of the large environmental impacts a lab can make is reducing or eliminating paper work tickets for every job. Through automation or barcode ready equipment and job trays, labs can saves thousands of dollars annually.

Reusing Paper

Soderberg Optical and Walman Optical make a point to reuse paper for all “internal” documents that won’t be seen by customers. By reusing paper and printing on the back side, these labs estimate combined savings of about 750,000 sheets of paper each year.

Recycling Waste

Make sure all your facilities are diligent in their waste recycling efforts. When Soderberg Optical/Walman Optical strengthened its commitment to going green, it realized that nearly half of its 35 locations weren’t doing as much recycling as they could. Getting everyone on board has made a big difference in their efforts.

According to Craig Giles, executive vice president of Soderberg Optical, Soderberg is also striving to decrease its use of document destruction by assessing what’s being placed in containers. By switching to non-DVI work tickets, for example, the completed work tickets can now be recycled instead of placed in document destruction. Walmart is another company that’s made a firm resolve toward going green.

“Our company is committed to recycling all recyclable products—including paper and plastic packaging from lenses, frames, maintenance and supplies—and eliminating materials that cannot be recycled,” said Scott Pickering, Sr. director of manufacturing and logistics for Walmart’s optical operations. “We are identifying new areas where progress can be made—like recycling the millions of fining, polish and gripper pads that are used in the labs yearly or reducing the HVAC heat load produced by the equipment in our facilities. Our current project is to find an alternative way to dispose of polycarbonate swarf.”

Strategy #3: Take a Hard Look at Every Process Area

Once you make the commitment to becoming more eco-friendly, it’s important to examine every area within your lab for opportunities to make a positive difference. Here are some of the most common areas, and what some labs are doing to boost eco-friendliness.


Many labs like Carl Zeiss Vision have targeted product packaging as one improvement area.

“We switched to recyclable packaging for our eyeglasses at every Carl Zeiss Vision lab,” said Jeff Grumbling, director of lab operations, west. “We use blue cases made of 100 percent recyclable materials that allow for clean, professional delivery and greater protection of eyeglasses during shipment. We also offer our customers the opportunity to recycle the cases through the lab. If they choose, they can return the packaging to us postage-paid and we will reuse it.”


Other labs have zoomed in on wasteful shipping habits—choosing to cut back and consolidate whenever possible.

“We’ve got more than 40 account managers that show and sell frame products in the field (across both Soderberg Optical and Walman Optical),” explained Giles. “In the past, these field managers would send products back to us from the field on an as-needed basis, which would get expensive. Now, we have a scheduled, consolidated collection process that is coordinated through our branch offices. So field managers can time their returns with the branch office, which has cut down on shipping redundancy quite a bit.”

The lab’s accounting department has also cut down its shipments to corporate from four to two times a week, which has put a serious dent in shipping costs. When satisfying client needs, the lab continues to ship when necessary to maintain good service levels; but for all internal shipments behind the scenes, consolidation is the rule of thumb—causing the lab to save between 30-50 percent of its previous shipping costs.

Water Usage/Sewer

Water consumption poses another significant opportunity. Consider these tips:

• Carl Zeiss Vision labs now use recycled mains-water in their Surfacing Fining process, rather than the more common (and wasteful) water-to-drain method.

• Walman Optical replaced the lawn sprinkler system at its corporate office. This reduced the water consumption by one-half, while still preserving a great-looking lawn.

• Many labs are now recirculating edger, generator or fining water, which reduces water consumption, keeps contaminants out of the sewage system, saves money and provides a means for better process control. (See sidebar)

• Invest in ultra-pure water systems (like those from Pure Water Works) that use reverse osmosis. This reduces your need for deionized water, which often have exchange tanks that are regenerated using strong acids and caustics. Or, look into electronic dionization processes that don’t use acids or caustics at all—a totally green concept.

• Consider a system that neutralizes the high-alkaline detergent waste generated by coating operations and ultrasonic washers. The right system can neutralize that waste, making it legal to flush down the drain.


Labs are even making smart investments in technology that can have long-term benefits on the environment. Some have installed light-motion sensors in office buildings, which cause lights to automatically shut off when people leave the room. Other facilities are investing in solar power and other alternative sources of power. At the Walmart Optical Lab in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the facility focused on their compressed air system. An initial inspection of the air lines found over 100 small leaks; once those were repaired, one generator was able to be turned off. Then the lab replaced four small generators with one variable-speed generator with a large storage tank. The return on investment in energy savings was 1.3 years.

Vehicle Gasoline/Air Travel

Cutting down on unnecessary trips and travel ventures can do a lot to help protect the planet while also cutting expenses. Online technology can now enable “virtual” meetings, which can achieve the same goals, at a fraction of the cost.

Putting It All Together

There’s no doubt that going green can affect your laboratory in many positive ways—both environmentally and financially. “By examining our carbon footprint, we’ve really been able to see where we were wasting things—like paper, water, electricity and shipping costs,” said Giles. “After making a concerted effort to do a few things differently, we’ve already saved well over tens of thousands of dollars for Soderberg Optical and Walman Optical. Conservation efforts are now part of our corporate culture and DNA.”

Not Filtering and Recycling Your Water?

What Is It Really Costing You

Let’s address the most obvious thing your lab may be losing by not recycling its water: the water and money associated with sending it down the drain everyday. Practical Systems, Inc. (PSI), has provided this example: Three fresh water finers running 20, two-minute cycles per hour will each use approximately 40 gallons of water per hour. That equates to 320 gallons of water per day, 1,600 gallons per week, and a whopping 6,720 gallons of water per month. If your lab is located in Tampa, Fla., it will cost you roughly $2,000 every year in water and sewage fees for just your finers. In Dallas, the cost would be approximately $1,800.

Using a filter and recycling system would reduce your water usage substantially. Instead of 6,720 gallons of water per month going down the drain (along with the contaminants from the process), only 90 gallons of filtered water would be used (based on the tank capacity of PSI’s 993 recycling system). Since the water is sent through a filter system, the contaminants are collected in a filter bag that can be thrown in the garbage instead of down the drain with the water.

Not only will you be saving water and money on your water and sewage bill, you’ll be saving money through fewer reworks. Why? Running fresh water into your finers does not allow for temperature control. Water temperatures that are too cool can cause the lens to deblock, while temperatures too high can affect the quality of the lens. By running your water through a recycling and filtration system, a chiller can be added to maintain the optimum processing temperature. Eliminating one broken lens a day due to deblocking or aberrations would add up to approximately 22 less reworked lenses a month. Based on a 22-day work month with an average cost per job of $12 (not including the lens cost), that equates to a cost savings of $264 a month or approximately $3,100 a year.

Watch for the next issue of LabTalk magazine to learn how manufacturers are helping lens labs go greener—by introducing equipment and products that can help drive your sustainability efforts.

Other Things Your Lab Can Do

In Your Facility:

• Install solar energy

• Switch regular light bulbs to eco-friendly alternatives

• Install a timer system

• Using reusable office and lab furniture (e.g., standard lab benches and shelving), office furniture made from recycled materials, and/or renewed/reused carpet in offices.

• Switching to environmentally friendly cleaning products.

In Your Bathrooms:

• Consider low-flow toilets

• Install more water-efficient faucets, such as touch faucets or hands-free faucets with “sensing” technology, which automatically start and stop water flow. For ideas, visit www.DeltaFaucet.com/Commercial.

In Your Labs:

• Recycle polish

• Filter and recycle all lab liquids

• Whenever possible, use alcohol as a lens-cleaning agent rather than acetone

• Use liner-less Surface-Saver tape

With Your Customers:

• Switch to eco-friendly lens cleaners, which are formulated from biodegradable components (such as Clarity EcoClens by Nanofilm, www.nanofilmproducts.com).

A Greeting Card That Keeps On Giving

Here’s a creative idea: This past holiday season, iCoat Company (Santa Fe Springs, Calif.) did something truly “green” by sending a plantable seed card instead of a regular greeting card. Wildflower seeds are embedded throughout the environmentally safe, biodegradable card that can be planted directly in the ground. What a great way for iCoat to thank its valued customers while reinforcing the message of “growth.”


Labtalk June 2020