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Make your equine practice eco-friendly
Going green doesn't have to cost a lot. Here are 7 small-and 4 big-ways to go green without spending a lot of green.
It's the big catchphrase: going green. And while it's a trend, it's also a smart idea to make changes, whether big or small, to be more environmentally friendly. Your clients, patients, team members, and the environment will thank you—and your bottom line will, too, in the long run. For Susan Werner, practice manager at Werner Equine in North Granby, Conn., caring for the environment while treating horses goes hand in hand. "It's an issue that has reached the tipping point with our clients," says Werner, whose husband, Dr. Harry Werner, is the current president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. "Making changes to care for our environment confirms our commitment to practice responsibly, and our clients value those efforts."
Many veterinarians balk at the idea of going green, not knowing what the process entails. But it's really just a way of life, and it can start small: one change here, one change there. To get your wheels turning, we've compiled a list of seven small changes and four big changes that can make a huge impact for the better. Make it your late New Year's resolution to implement at least one in your practice this year, then do more as you're able.
One small step
The good news: You don't have to install solar panels on the roof just yet. These small changes can make a big difference and help you form new green habits.
1. Switch cleaning products. Simply choosing safer products, especially floor cleaning solutions, goes a long way toward better air and water quality, says Wayne Usiak, AIA, senior partner with Wayne Usiak and Associates/BDA Architecture in Albuquerque, N.M. "Many cleaning products give off volatile organic compounds, and it's a very easy fix to switch to more environmentally sound products," he says.
2. Recycle. If you offer recycling bins, people will use them. "Make it easy for your staff and clients to recycle," says architect Kimberli Bragg, a partner with thoughtSPACE architecture firm in Lexington, Ky. "Place bins throughout the facility, and assign someone on your team to collect the recycling on a regular basis."
And don't stop at paper and soda cans. Usiak recommends recycling horse manure: Hire someone to haul it away and compost it or find other ways to recycle it, rather than dumping it in the landfill. Some gardeners might pay big bucks for this fertilizer au naturel!
3. Lower your lighting. Lighting is a simple, mostly inexpensive way to make big changes. Change incandescent bulbs out for compact fluorescent bulbs or LED lighting fixtures. Consider where you can use task lighting instead of general illumination. And install HVAC and lighting occupancy sensors or put these systems on a centrally controlled timer, Bragg says. Usiak notes that half of a building's energy consumption is electricity, and half of that use is lighting. Putting lights on timers or occupancy switches will cost $30 to $50 per switch, but this investment will quickly pay for itself when you start receiving lower electric bills.
4. Plant local, buy local. It seems like common sense, yet it's easy to overlook: Use indigenous plants in your landscaping. They require less water, less upkeep, and less fertilizer, and they usually cost less than more exotic plants. And when it comes to building materials, supplies, and anything else you use in business, buy local whenever possible. "From feed to supplies to building materials, buying local cuts down on transportation costs and packaging," Bragg says. That means less fuel used to transport materials. It's a win-win all around.
If you can't buy local, purchase recycled and eco-friendly products when possible. And insist that vendors send your supplies and equipment in minimal packaging, Werner says. If suppliers can't do this, Usiak says they'll often agree to take back their packaging and reuse it.
5. Maintain upkeep. Staying on top of basic maintenance, such as hiring someone to clean your ductwork regularly, increases system efficiency and reduces sickness among employees, Bragg says. Also, make sure your HVAC system is introducing a high volume of outside air for better efficiency. A properly functioning system will cut energy use—and your bill.
And while you're breathing easy, don't forget about your patients. "In recovery stalls, sick horses tend to hang their heads, putting their noses close to the ammonia that builds up from urine," Usiak says. "So install exhaust fans that blow the air outside to improve air quality for the horses."
6. Close the gaps. Gaps in windows and doors increase your energy use for heating and cooling—bad for the environment, bad for your budget. A simple fix: Install weather stripping and insulation and make sure doors and windows close properly.
Also, check that your facility sports enough insulation. Installing more might cost a bit, but the effort is well worth it in the money you'll save, Bragg says. If you're replacing insulation in an existing attic, she recommends open or closed-cell spray foam, which even comes in a soy-based version. These types of insulation are water-blown into place and don't contain CFCs or HCFCs so they don't impact the environment like fiberglass batt insulation. Plus, the spray foam is inert and will not allow mold growth or provide a food source for insects or rodents. And they don't settle or deteriorate over time. The spray foam costs roughly twice as much as fiberglass batt insulation, but it also provides you up to 50 percent energy savings.
7. Regulate thermostats. Setting your thermostat a degree or two lower in the winter and higher in the summer can reduce energy use significantly. Werner also recommends installing programmable thermostats that crank up when you're in the building and ease up during off-work hours.
Small changes are a great way for you to ease into the green revolution. But big changes are even better, especially if you're planning to build a new facility or convert an existing building. So if you have more green to spend, here are some big ways to go all-out green in your practice.
1. Thicken your view. Replace all old single-pane windows or, when building new, choose one-inch insulated windows with low-E (low emissivity) glazing. Single-pane windows do little to stop the heat-cold transfer through the glass from the outside in and vice versa. But thicker double- or triple-pane windows will greatly decrease this problem. Also, low-E glazing enhances the insulative quality of a window by making it reflect heat.
2. Ditch the tank. When replacing water heaters, install tankless instant water heaters instead, Usiak says. A tankless water heater doesn't rely on burning a pilot light all day, so it uses less energy to heat the water.
Since tankless water heaters don't store water, they avoid standby heat loss. Instead a high capacity gas or electric element heats the water the instant you demand it. This feature is a bit pricey, but Usiak says it will generally pay for itself in five to seven years. "If you can make the investment up front, it will definitely pay off in the long run," he says.
3. Follow the star. The Energy Star label, that is. "When replacing old appliances, look for those that are Energy Star compliant," Usiak says. One-quarter of energy consumption in a business goes into appliances, Usiak says. But by switching to Energy Star products, you'll greatly reduce your energy use. As demand for these appliances grows, their prices have dropped and they've become more readily available. In order to earn the Energy Star label, an appliance must meet EPA standards for energy efficiency.
4. Get oriented. "Take advantage of natural ventilation when orienting a new building on a site," Bragg says. Also, think about which ways natural light will shine into your building and where you most need it.
Usiak agrees, saying that design needs to follow common sense, as it did many years ago before heating, cooling, and other energy-guzzling features became widespread. "Positioning a building to use natural daylight will reduce your energy consumption and use of artificial light, keeping energy costs down," he says. "Orienting the building to allow natural breezes to flow will reduce your cooling costs. The list goes on."
Theory into action
Going eco-equine and what it means for you
Building green costs more in the outset. Architect Kimberli Bragg estimates that there's a 5 percent to 25 percent upcharge associated with many green choices now, but the gap with conventional approaches is closing. Wayne Usiak, AIA, says the green options veterinarians are most commonly choosing cost 1 percent to 10 percent more than standard building practices. "Luckily there are financial benefits to just about every aspect of going green," says Bragg. "Reduced energy consumption means lower bills. Cleaner, naturally lit, well-ventilated workplaces mean lower absenteeism, higher employee retention, greater productivity, and safer environments for the animals." And, of course, clients like knowing you're doing what you can to save the environment they and their animals live in.
Back to basics
Making a few small changes can have a big impact on your practice's utility bills and the environment. So get started today!
> Encourage team members to turn off lights when they leave a room.
> Turn down the heat or the air conditioning by one degree and save big money on yearly electric costs. Install a programmable thermostat to help you monitor and control the temperature in your facility.
> Shut down computers and turn off power strips at the end of the day.
> Turn off computer monitors when they're not in use.
> Fix dripping faucets.
> Make the switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs.
> Print on both sides of a sheet of paper, on the back of old faxes, and don't print every e-mail.
> Collect soda cans and other recyclables in your break room.
> Stock the break room with reusable dishes and silverware.