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HomemifeatureSeeking Out a Force for Good

Seeking Out a Force for Good

Dr Jayson Stone with retail manager and buyer Kenny Chua in background. Photography by Matt Chandorkar and Tailor Agency.

Have you ever encouraged a patient to have an old frame refitted with new lenses? Have you incentivized them to do so with a discount?

Unlikely.

Many assume that doing so would plunge them headlong into a commercial death spiral. However, with their eyes wide open to the risks, practice owners Dr Jayson Stone and Kye O’Donnell tried it. And for them, recommending frame reuse has had quite the opposite effect.

just as I believe in slow fashion, I believe that consultations should be unrushed

It’s bold steps like these that are helping the business partners build a strong following in the community, while helping to save the planet.

In the creative heart of Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, Melbourne, sits an up-market optometry practice filled with striking frames, illuminated by spotlights, on sleek, solid timber shelving.

Fitzroy is an inner-city suburb; a ‘cultural hub’ just 2km from Melbourne’s central business district. It’s also ‘politically green’, with Adam Bandt, Leader of the Australian Greens, locating his electorate office in the suburb’s heart.

This distinctive cultural and political vibe made Fitzroy an ideal spot to establish a practice founded on the principles of sustainability, said optometrist and practice co-owner Dr Stone.

Having practised for 20 years, he said he and his partner Mr O’Donnell have built their practice – Seekers Optical – from the ground up with clear goals for sustainability.

“I always envisaged opening my own practice, but I wanted it to be sustainable – I wanted it to be good for the community and the environment.”

When we think about sustainability, we often focus on the environment however, the term ‘sustainable’ refers to much more than that.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, sustainable means:
1. “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level”,
2. “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources”, and
3. “able to be upheld or defended”.

In business, Mr O’Donnell explained, “It’s about considering the needs of governance, the community, suppliers, staff, customers, and of course the planet.”

And it’s about putting all of these considerations ahead of profit (while ensuring the business remains financially viable).

Seekers has considered each of these aspects of sustainability methodically, with guidance from a global non-profit called B Lab.

The B Lab network has established standards and a ‘B Corp’ certification process to facilitate “economic systems change” for businesses of all sizes – from startups to multinationals.

Its programs and tools are designed to help members understand their social and environmental footprint while driving “meaningful legal change around corporate accountability and social impact”.

The global impact of B Lab is on the rise. In 2022, 6,000 organisations achieved ‘B Corp certification’, and more than 200,000 businesses were registered on its B Impact Assessment program that helps them to measure, manage, and improve their impact.1

For Seekers which has just received its B Corp certification, the process has helped formalize a philosophy already in existence.

B Lab’s standards are global and they can be applied to organisations of different sizes and in different sectors.

As the first Australian optometry practice to engage in the process, Seekers’ first step was to find out where it fitted into B Lab’s model. This enabled the business owners to interpret and apply the standards accordingly.

“As an optometry practice, we fell into the ‘retail pathway’ and our ‘impact model’ was health and wellness,” Mr O’Donnell explained.

“Over about nine months, we worked our way through a thorough assessment process to find out where we complied with B Lab’s standards and to identify the areas we could improve in. That helped us scale and direct our efforts.”

Taking the Plunge

One of the first programs the business partners introduced, even before venturing down the B Lab path, was a ‘reuse, re-lens, recycle’ program that involved both frames and contact lenses.

While programs to recycle contact lenses and blister packs are now reasonably commonplace, Seekers’ focus on frame reuse is perhaps more surprising.

Rather than contributing to a “throw away society” by selling new frames as a first option, Dr Stone said his “slow fashion” philosophy encourages clients to extend the life of their frames.

“Most optometry practices want clients to choose a new frame when they need new lenses. They’ll either refuse or charge a reglazing fee to refit an existing frame.

“We encourage every client to reuse their existing frames if possible, and we even incentivise them to do so by offering a 20% discount on the lenses.”

He explained that as well as reducing waste, this focus on reusing frames has actually increased sales.

“People like to have multiple pairs. We find many patients will choose a new frame for their new prescription then have their old frame re-fitted with their new prescription as well. We end up with a bigger sale than we would otherwise have had.

“The frames we stock are all selected with re-use in mind – they are master-crafted, plant-based, acetate frames that can be buffed up, or titanium frames that can be welded.”

Patients who are ready to dispose of their old glasses are incentivised, with a small discount on their new purchase, to leave them at the practice. Seekers donates them to Lions Recycle for Sight, where they are renovated, then repurposed with the lenses matched to the visual acuity of people in need.

Contact lenses and their blister packaging are also recycled. To do this, Seekers partnered with TerraCycle, a company that collects and recycles a range of ‘hard to recycle products’, also including oral care products, aerosols, razors, coffee capsules, and cling wrap.

Every Seekers contact lens patient is given a pouch, in which they can store their used contact lenses and packaging ready to return to the practice when they come in to replenish their lens supply.

“We drop the waste into the TerraCycle box along with display lenses from the frames we sell, and any old lenses we pop out of patient’s frames when replacing them. All of this goes off to TerraCycle. We pay a fee to do this, but it’s so much better than throwing everything into the rubbish,” Dr Stone said.

Seekers also favours suppliers that focus on sustainability.

“We can and will access all contact lens companies, however we make it clear, in our client marketing, that CooperVision is our preferred supplier because of its partnership with Plastic Bank, which collects, processes, and reuses general plastic waste that is equal to the weight of the plastic contained in its lenses and packaging,” Dr Stone said.

The Less Obvious

Inspired by the B Lab process, Dr Stone and Mr O’Donnell recently paid over the odds for a lens edger that comes with a sophisticated water filtration unit. It was a decision driven by their desire to minimise waste, maximise recycling, and ultimately protect the planet.

The AU$7,500 unit recycles the water used during edging so that rather than using 10 litres of water per week, Seekers uses 10 litres of water every five months. As a bonus, they can filter the lens shavings from the water, then send them to TerraCycle for recycling.

Furthermore, by equipping themselves with a lens edger, Seekers is now able to fulfil another one of the required pillars to meet B Lab’s sustainability process: looking after community.

many patients will choose a new frame for their new prescription then have their old frame re-fitted with their new prescription as well. We end up with a bigger sale than we would otherwise have had

“We can now make progressive lenses in a week, and single vision lenses straight away, in the time it takes for a patient to have a coffee,” Mr O’Donnell explained. “Patients love that level of service”.

Community Focus

Actively contributing to the community is a significant driver for Mr O’Donnell and Dr Stone. The practice makes a quarterly donation to a charity chosen by their patients from a select list when they collect their glasses. So far, quarterly donations have been made to 12 charities, including The Fred Hollows Foundation, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Minus18, Share the Dignity, Guide Dogs Victoria, and Lions Outback Vision.

“We also support local events, through sponsorship or simply opening our doors to the community during events like the Gertrude St Projection Festival and Pride Week,” Dr Stone said.

While the business partners enjoy being part of the community, Dr Stone said their involvement is delivering tangible rewards in terms of new business and brand building.

“We opened on Sunday during Pride Week – something we don’t usually do – and we handed icy poles out to all the children. One young child dropped his icy pole in the dirt and started to cry.

“I replaced it, of course. The next week, the child’s grandmother came in and told us that because we’d been so lovely to her grandchild, she assumed we were good people and so she would have her eyes tested with us.”

He said that sense of community is also being built by offering long consultations that encourage connection.

“I often reflect on visits to the GP when I was a child. I’d go in with my parents and the doctor would settle us down and spend time asking about the family – grandparents, parents etc. – before finally talking about the ailment. That doesn’t happen anymore when you visit a doctor, and it happens less and less in optometry.

“But just as I believe in slow fashion, I believe that consultations should be unrushed. Many of my patients are older; it takes them a while to recall and articulate all their symptoms, so I like to take time to make them feel comfortable – spending 45 minutes in a consultation is a common occurrence.

“We’ve also invested in optical coherence tomography to perform baseline scans for every patient. As the most effective tool to detect diseases like early macular degeneration and onset glaucoma, I believe it should be the standard of care for every practice,” Dr Stone said.

Sustainable Human Resources

Another of the pillars promoted by B Lab centres around human resources (HR): workplaces should be inclusive and diverse with clear guidance on roles, regular feedback, and a liveable wage.

While many small businesses find this an area that’s easy to neglect, Mr O’Donnell said Seekers has been encouraged to address HR in its process to achieve certification.

Formal position statements, an induction and training process, annual growth and development reviews, a health and safety policy, and regular team celebrations have all been formalised.

“We have also addressed governance, by engaging our lawyers to rewrite our constitution, stipulating that we are committed to balancing the needs of the environment, our staff, suppliers, and the community, with profit,” Mr O’Donnell said.

Little Steps

Of course, not every organisation will be equipped or even interested in pursuing sustainability to the same comprehensive level as has been achieved by Seekers.

While this is entirely understandable to Mr O’Donnell, he pointed to some simple steps that could easily be taken – and some could even save you money.

“We switched to a 100% green electricity provider, and we switched printers. Although we were already using recycled paper, we realised that we could make more of a difference by using vegetable-based inks rather than chemicals.”

But it was a switch in packaging that surprised him. “Rather than using plastic pre-paid satchels to mail frames, we found Heaps Good compostable bags – and it turned out they were cheaper than buying from Australia Post.”

While many businesses remain cautious about taking steps to become more sustainable, Dr Stone and Mr O’Donnell said they were eager to continue their journey.

“As the first optometry practice in Australia to complete the B Corp certification process, we’ve shown that it is achievable. Certification must be renewed every three years and we know that going through the process again will bring more benefits,” said Dr Stone.

“People around the world are increasingly seeking to buy from, or engage with, companies that have B Corp certification, so as well as being good for the community and the planet, it’s a strategy that makes good business sense.

“We’re happy to talk to any other practices about what we’ve learnt – we’d like to show them the way.”

Reference
1. Allen, E., 2022 Annual Report: A letter of reflection, available at bcorporation.net/en-us/news/blog/a-letter-of-reflection-2022 [accessed 11 July 2022].