Simple, inexpensive ways for you and your practice to “go green”

March 1, 2009
Going green in the dental office isn't as hard or as expensive as you might think.

by Kevin Henry

Going green in the dental office isn't as hard or as expensive as you might think. There are several easy things you can do today to make a difference in your office and in the environment.

Reducing waste in the office

Trying to reduce the waste produced by your office is one of the quickest ways to make a difference. Some common ways to reduce waste in the office include …

Reduce paper — Use electronic means to communicate with patients and with each other. If handouts are needed for a staff meeting, how about making a copy on the other side of used paper?

Recycle — Inevitably, there will be paper coming into the office. Whether it's envelopes from the mail or a printout for a patient, make sure you have a recycling program in place. See if one of your team members is willing to be the recycling coordinator. Also make sure you let your patients know you have a recycling program and encourage them to minimize the use of paper.

Inks and toners — Choose your printer inks and toners carefully. Reuse and refill toners; recycle ink cartridges.

Give those computers a new life — When the time comes to upgrade, your fully functional computers may still have a lot of life left in them. Donate them to a charity or local school.

Cut down on the Styrofoam™ — Encourage everyone to bring their own mug to the kitchen for drinks and their own plates and silverware for lunch usage.

Reuse boxes and other shipping and packaging materials — If they can't be reused, make sure you know where a local cardboard recycling facility is located.

Let Mother Nature help with heating and cooling

In locations with warm climates, the broad side of the office should face north or south to avoid a direct hit — and resulting heat gain — from the sun. Deep overhangs will also help block the sun and reduce excessive heat gains by putting the office in the shade. Tint can also be applied to windows, particularly large picture windows that can heat up a room quickly and force an air conditioner to work overtime. Without impacting the view, tinting can provide a savings of 5-10% of the energy needed to cool a structure when applied to western-facing windows. In colder climates, take advantage of the sun's heating ability. Heat provided from the sun can be stored in the concrete or stone walls, helping to keep a structure warm even after the sun goes down.

Other options are retractable awnings and solar screens. Solar screens reduce heat and glare from the sun but allow the light to enter the office without impeding the outside view. Another option? The completely organic one — planting a tree, which can provide nature-made solar protection.

Check out CFLs

Essentially mini versions of the large overhead fluorescent lights found in office buildings and schools, most compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs last 8 to 12 times longer than incandescents, at a quarter the cost per hour. They also produce 70 percent less heat than incandescents while illuminated, so heat waste is a nonissue.

CFLs do cost between $5-15 per bulb while some incandescents can be purchased sometimes for around 50 cents each. But given their longer life and energy savings, the cost is worth it. It is estimated that by replacing just five incandescent lights with CFLs, a standard office could save up to $60 per year. Over the span of 10,000 hours, a CFL can cost less than half of an incandescent.

Picking the CFL brightness that is right for your practice can be tricky, so be sure to check the EPA's Energy Star ratings (

Speaking of lightbulbs, please remember that all types of bulbs contain a small amount of hazardous waste. CFL bulbs contain mercury and incandescent bulbs and LEDs contain lead. For this reason, don't toss burned-out bulbs into the regular trash; these toxic substances are best kept out of the landfill. Treat burned-out bulbs as hazardous waste — dispose of them at your local hazardous waste site or seek out recycling centers that will accept lightbulbs. The Website can help with this.

There are plenty of ways you can minimize your carbon footprint. Drop me an e-mail at [email protected] for ideas and I'll be glad to help.

Kevin Henry is DE's managing editor and is becoming one of the nation's experts and speakers on ways to become more environmentally conscious in the dental office. He can be reached at [email protected].

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