Sustainability is, literally, a global concept. Encompassing everything from public health and environmental concerns to food and energy production to practices of consumption and disposal, sustainability is perhaps best summarized as the ability to meet current needs without compromising future needs. This may seem like a daunting issue to address – a large-scale problem requiring large-scale solutions, disconnected from everyday business.
The team at Artisan Dental in Madison, Wisconsin, has a different perspective. As the first carbon-neutral general dentistry office in the United States, as well as a Certified B Corporation, Artisan Dental incorporates many individual sustainable efforts into its day-to-day routines, seeking to be not only a successful business, but also a better one for society. From their in-house “green team” to their community-based recycling program, the practice is dedicated to responsible growth.
“Research is showing that younger people in particular want to do business with businesses that have something beyond their products and services. That they’re looking to make good in the world,” said Rochelle Guastella, Artisan Dental’s director of business development. “Our quality of care is excellent. So by coming here for your dentistry, you’re getting both.”
Laying the foundation for sustainable business
When Scott Andersen and his wife, Nicole Andersen, DDS, started Artisan Dental in 2014, they already knew that a firm focus on sustainability was part of their mission. In fact, it was literally built into the office, which features floor-to-ceiling windows in many areas to maximize use of natural light, as well as many construction materials containing recycled content. After about a year of operation, they made the move to 100% renewable power for their electricity needs. But they still envisioned having an impact beyond their practice walls.
“We talked about five big stakeholder groups,” said Scott Andersen, director of stakeholder stewardship. “The first is our patients, then our team, then our suppliers and contractors, the community, and then the environment. That formulation really came from my appreciation of the underlying unity and interdependency of all things in the world, together with the recognition that our actions can contribute to the short- and long-term health and well-being of these stakeholders and therefore the larger society and environment we all live in.”
Putting sustainability into daily practice
So how did they set about making such a lofty goal manageable? “Probably one of the biggest things we did was create a green team,” explained Guastella. “We have volunteers who will give up their lunch hour for a meeting, and we just sort of brainstorm to come up with new initiatives and plan out how to get them implemented. Everybody takes a piece of the puzzle, and then we come back, and it evolves and moves on. And it’s really engaging for the team,” she added. “Because if you’re part of the idea, there’s a lot more buy-in to make sure everyone is on board.”
Another source of inspiration has been the B Corp assessment. Certified B Corp companies have committed to high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency, which are assessed through a series of questions created by B Lab, a nonprofit organization. The assessment tool is free and confidential. “We came across the B Corp assessment in 2017,” said Andersen. “The certification rests on the idea that you agree to consider the interests of various stakeholders whenever you’re making a decision. So it blended beautifully with our original ideas. We now use the B Impact Assessment as a business planning tool.”
And they don’t just assess themselves. “One thing we do that I think is kind of above and beyond is we look at what are our suppliers are doing,” said Guastella. “We’ve sent out a supplier code of conduct and a supplier survey to make sure we’re partnering with companies that have a similar mindset and are doing good for the world.”
Connecting and communicating efforts
This awareness of interconnection, which is fundamental to the concept of sustainability, permeates many of Artisan Dental’s eff orts. For example, they maintain a hands-free drop-off point where members of the public can bring certain items such as used toothbrushes and empty toothpaste tubes to be recycled. They then send the collected items to TerraCycle, a company that repurposes complex waste streams, to earn points that are converted to a cash donation to local nonprofit partners. Another program involves sending non-recyclable single-use items, such as masks, gloves and suction straws, to a company that incinerates them to create steam that’s converted to electricity. And as a member of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, the practice is a visible contributor to the community, which Guastella boosts through the practice’s social platforms.
“I never have a shortage for social media content, newsletter content, blog content, because this is all great stuff to share,” said Guastella. “And it mushrooms out. Say, if we win an award, they’re sharing that on their network and I’m sharing it on my network. And sometimes people within our organization forward it and share it too. So that’s where the message becomes big. And then word of mouth brings people in.”
“We really don’t spend on marketing,” Andersen added.
Building loyalty and impact
Artisan Dental has found that their approach to business not only attracts new patients, but also keeps them coming back. “When you get people coming for a purpose, other than the product and service, I feel like they’re more likely to stay with you,” said Guastella. “And ethical integrity is such a big part of the healthcare system that if you’re reaching out to a company that’s doing these things, and we’re certified as doing these things, I think it instills in patients that ‘this is a company I can trust, and these are people who I can feel good about working with.’”
“It also really helps with team member attraction and loyalty,” said Andersen. “Losing team members can be a big cost for an organization. But when we’re all galvanized around a higher purpose, it’s an incredible way to build culture. And it’s a way for people, individually and collectively, to feel a sense of meaning, satisfaction and that they’re making a contribution on a larger level. I think that’s incredibly important.” The effect on team building is borne out by Artisan Dental’s growth: It began as a one-dentist practice, but now employs four doctors.
“If you’re just one person, you do what you can,” Guastella said. “But the biggest impact for me comes when we influence others. It’s a trickle effect: Once you get started doing this, and you get that good feeling that comes from doing it, it extends to your home, and then it extends to your family and friends. It doesn’t take long to take off. And then you’ve magnified your effects tenfold, a hundredfold, whatever it is. We get a lot of feedback from patients and team members, and that fuels us to keep going.”
With so many angles to consider, where do Andersen and Guastella suggest practices start to increase their sustainable footprint? Andersen recommends first thinking about what purpose you want your efforts to serve and picking initiatives that can have early, tangible success to help develop momentum. “It doesn’t have to be a green team,” he said. “It could be a social team.
It could be an economic team.” Guastella concurred. “Don’t be scared to dip your toe in the pool,” she encouraged. “Just don’t try to go too big, too fast. You’ve got to start small and have successes that create engagement and excitement among your team. Once you have that, it’ll organically start to take off. Once the team sees these small successes, and they start to feel good about it, they’ll probably start bringing ideas to the leadership. Because it’s just in your blood now, you know. I can’t imagine going back.”
Resources for building a sustainable dental practice
Tap into these resources for more information about sustainability.
American Dental Association: 80 ways to make your dental practice green
B Lab Global: B Impact Assessment
United Nations: Take action for the sustainable development goals
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This article was first published in Advantage magazine by Patterson Dental. Read the original article here.