A Pathway To Sustainable Dentistry: An Interview with Go Practice Green Founder Mark Topley

Mark Topley has spent more than 20 years in dentistry and 10 years working with clients on sustainability. Between 2003 and 2017, he worked in East Africa for the dental charity Bridge 2 Aid, where he developed his enthusiasm for corporate sustainability and responsibility.

During this time, Mark worked with charity partners, large blue chips such as GSK, and others addressing corporate sustainability. Mark could see how they were using that to inspire their teams and reassure their stakeholders. Realising that there was nothing like this in dentistry, he launched his own consultancy practice, helping corporates and individual dentists become more sustainable and environmentally responsible.

How did the need for more sustainability and environmental responsibility in dentistry lead to establishing Go Practice Green?

Mark has been helping clients one-on-one for over 10 years, filling a gap in the market. Many practices know that they want to be more sustainable, and they need to be, but there are considerable barriers regarding time, cost, and knowledge.

I wanted to demystify all of that, debunk the myths, and then put together a straightforward step system for making a dental practice more sustainable in as little as a few minutes to a couple of hours a week.

“The NHS can’t possibly meet its sustainability targets if dentistry isn’t a part of that puzzle, and it’s really inspiring that there are so many dentists out there who are committed to doing it.”

What are some of the initiatives for going sustainable that Go Practice Green can help practices put into place?

When you talk to dentists, they say they can’t possibly do anything because the CQC and the cost of infection protocols such as ‘single-use’ tie their hands.

I explained that most of their carbon footprint, most of their ecological impact, is outside of the surgery. In fact, 60% of it is the transport to and from the practice. About another 20% is procurement—the places they choose to go and buy the things they need to run a practice and how they buy it. There’s an awful lot they can do, so we look at eight main areas, including :

  • Biodiversity
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Plastics
  • Management
  • Communications
  • Supply Chains

There are a lot of areas that dentists can focus on, so what we do is take in Go Practice Green, and we start wherever you’re at. If you are a complete newbie, the very first thing we’ll do is get you to do a little switch-on and switch-off protocol with your lights. A very simple, but very visible idea that starts to get the team engaged. From there, it goes through the bronze silver and gold levels to make it more and more involved. I wouldn’t say complex but there’s a bigger commitment as you go up the levels.

Basically, all the Dentist has got to worry about, or the Practice Managers, or whoever it’s been delegated to, is the next step. We’ve got the journey mapped out to a gold level of sustainability all you’ve got to focus on is doing the next module.

Why do you think Dentists, Practice Managers and Dental Groups seem more aware of the need to be more sustainable?

There are a few things. I think the pandemic changed the way people think about life in general. We care about the places where we buy from and who provides our services. There were a couple of notable failures in the early 2000s. Like the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, cost-cutting that led to a huge environmental impact while they continued to make billions in profits. 

That is the kind of example of how consumers are reacting against businesses not caring about the environment, and not caring about social issues. There could be moves by the government to make businesses more sustainable and one of the things that’s going to happen, we don’t know when and we don’t know to what extent, is that the CQC will start introducing sustainability into its inspections. Now, that won’t be a pass/fail, but it will be, “What’s your policy on this?” Or, “What’s your approach to carbon footprint?

The NHS can’t possibly meet its sustainability targets if dentistry isn’t a part of that puzzle, and it’s really inspiring that there are so many dentists out there who are committed to doing it. I think the combination of the big philosophical questions, what we see in the news, the way people feel about work, business, and life in general, plus some sticks from the regulators all combined to make it much more of an issue nowadays.

How are practices communicating this to their customers and the wider dental community?

We built accolades and recognition into the system, so there’s a certificate of bronze silver and gold level and then there’s collateral to help people to understand what that means. You can put something on your website which explains what that certification has involved and therefore what kind of practice they are. We help people to do that from a certification point of view and then we also help as part of the modules for people to communicate in a way which avoids greenwashing. The ways to talk about what you’re doing without making claims which are beyond what you’ve actually achieved. We do a lot of things around that in helping people to talk about it. 

How has Go Practice Green been received?

The feedback is overwhelmingly positive. When we launched a couple of months ago, there was a lot of positive feedback. The Association of Dental Groups endorses it, and there’s a collaboration with Henry Schein. The time is right for this kind of thing. 

I think where we try and do our best to bring what we do is that, yes, it’s a pathway, but there are lots of toolkits out there. The difference with Go Practice Green is that we have a support mechanism built in. It’s not like there’s a toolkit, and off you go, “Thanks very much for your subscription.”
We have a community of people who are online twice a month. I’m answering questions, we’re going over what’s going on, and troubleshooting. 

Then, for principles, the beauty is that they can choose what level of accountability they want for their team. If they just want to, let them get on with it. But if they need help, we can get in touch and support them through the process. People are running a dental practice. That’s what they do, and that’s busy enough. We want to ensure that this fits in with that, doesn’t become a time burden, and keeps moving in the right direction over time. Because that’s how you progress, it is rarely in giant leaps forward as in life.

People get frustrated with their lack of progress. But the problem is that if they try to go too fast too soon, they will overload themselves, which then becomes just another thing to do. But where this adds value is where it becomes just part of the day today. If a Practice Manager is doing it, then that’s fine. But that will be a few minutes to an hour a week. The beauty of what I like about this, and what excites me, is that it’s a leadership development opportunity for an enthusiastic person on the team who may have the enthusiasm but needs to figure out precisely what to do and needs some guidance.  Our model helps because we can hold them accountable and support them through the process.

How do I sign up to Go Practice Green?

More information can be found at gopracticegreen.com, and membership starts from just £35 a month. Densura members will receive a discount via a coupon code.

We deliberately priced Go Practice Green low because I’d rather have lots of practices doing it than just a few, and it’s our vocation and mission to make it happen as much as possible.

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