Sustainability – creating shared value in veterinary workplaces

Written by: Becky Sedman
Published on: 9 Apr 2021

Recycle symbol We have seen an exponential rise in businesses that aim to bring about positive environmental and social change alongside their commercial strategy.

For example, Patagonia produces outdoor clothing made from sustainable materials, and has a self-imposed Earth tax to support environmental non-profits and climate activism, while BrewDog craft brewery, a community-owned business ranked one of The Times’ Top 100 Best Employers, recently achieved B Corporation status.

Consumers are increasingly asking about the environmental and social sustainability strategies of companies, and choose to spend their money on ethical products and services.

It is no surprise that big corporations have become carbon neutral, and committed to using entirely recycled and renewable materials, or have created investment programmes supporting and encouraging diversity and inclusion in local communities.

Corporate social responsibility

Demand is growing for businesses to demonstrate corporate social responsibility, whereby they integrate social and environmental concerns into their business operations and interactions with stakeholders.

It occurs to me that veterinary businesses also have a responsibility to integrate sustainability principles into their daily operations and core values – whether operating as a small or medium enterprise, or as part of a large corporation.

As custodians of animal welfare, we have a responsibility to the animals under our care, as well as those impacted by human activity. This doesn’t necessarily mean altering business models, but, rather, implementing sustainability strategies.

We are starting to see this trend, with the emergence of Vet Sustain and other veterinary sustainability not-for-profit organisations across the world, such as Vets For Climate Action in Australia. The RCVS, BVA and BSAVA have established sustainability working groups, two prominent corporate groups have hired sustainability managers and numerous veterinary practices – both corporate and independent – are implementing sustainability initiatives.

Time to act

Creating shared value for people and the planet, while generating profit, allows businesses to flourish at the same time as benefiting both their employees and wider society.

The veterinary profession is best recognised for successfully advocating animal welfare, but unfortunately is also known for having a poor work-life balance, low diversity, high rate of suicide and high prevalence of mental health issues.

By improving the well-being of veterinary professionals we can improve workforce retention, productivity and enthusiasm, which is reflected in our quality of clinical care.

Veterinary care also has similarities with human health care in terms of our large carbon footprint due to waste production, resource consumption and medicines usage.

Now is the time to act if we have any chance of preventing a climate catastrophe, which will cause mass species extinction, biodiversity loss, food and water shortages, population displacement and increased disease risk.

These are compelling reasons to start considering the social and environmental sustainability strategies of our veterinary businesses, and perhaps reflect this in core business values if we are to ensure short-term and long-term success.

Resources

Environmental sustainability strategies begin with educating and engaging the team, identifying the main areas of environmental impact and taking steps to reduce them.

The Vet Sustain Sustainability Goals outlines a vision for the future and the Vet Sustain website – https://vetsustain.org – has a number of resources from which to draw inspiration, including the Greener Veterinary Practice Checklist, which is a simple guide for devising an action plan in clinical practice.

Social sustainability is ultimately about prioritising the health and well-being of employees; ensuring fair pay and fair treatment, stamping out discrimination and encouraging diversity, and making employees feel valued and respected.

Social sustainability strategies may include setting up a well‑being group, allowing flexible working hours, engaging in community or volunteering projects, ensuring a supportive and kind working environment, and encouraging a work-life balance.

The veterinary profession is a compassionate and hard‑working group of individuals with a drive to maintain high animal welfare, but we must also address wider societal issues – social and environmental – in our everyday work to ensure long‑term sustainability and success.