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NEW YORK—Sustainability is definitely progressing in the optical business world, from all directions. New conversations with optical retailers large, mid-sized and smaller independents reaffirm that the eyecare and eyewear space is supporting new involvement and the commitment to evaluate and implement sustainable practices. This means operationally within companies, within the supply chain and to the consumer, as more sustainably made optical products are being brought to patients and customers.

In a new Jobson Research Environmental Sustainability Study for Vision Monday’s sister publication, 20/20 Magazine, conducted just last fall, eyecare professionals shared a markedly positive outlook. Over 70 percent said it was “somewhat or very important” to employ environmentally friendly practices to make their location “green.”

Fifty-eight percent felt that their patients/consumers felt it was “somewhat or very” important that their practice did this. Seventy percent said they felt their customers put at least some priority on sustainable eyewear products but they’ve noticed more proactive interest, as 19 percent of ECPs said customers were inquiring or requesting information about products with ecologically conscious manufacturing, a peak since Jobson started the survey.

For several retailers, there is still a way to go as sustainability evolves. Observed Mollie Tavel Kaback, director of growth and community engagement for Dr. Tavel in Indianapolis, Ind., “We’ve dabbled in sustainable frames and contact lens recycling for a couple years. We adopted the B&L contact recycling when they launched it, and we started bringing in Dragon recycled frames in 2020.

“Right now, sustainable eyewear products are not in demand from our customer base. We have yet to receive any requests for recycled or sustainable product, and we haven’t heard any pushback on our current assortment. That said, we recognize that eventually our industry will need to make a concerted effort to go green and once it becomes a focus for our vendors, it will be easier for us to make the change.

“We are already seeing vendors like Marchon, Modo and Tura putting additional focus on sustainable frames and cases. It’s really wonderful to have partners who are making moves in the sustainable space. There is still an upside opportunity to focus our optician training on the importance of sustainability in eyecare, but this hasn’t been a priority narrative for us thus far,” Tavel said.

In contrast, Alfonso Cerullo, president, LensCrafters, pointed out, “Consumers are increasingly asking for products that are aligned with their own personal values, and sustainability is a great example of that. We’re not just talking about Millennials and Gen Z—the desire to ‘do your part’ is woven into the larger consumer mindset. Our associates are always proud to highlight these innovations as another sign that we are a socially conscious business.”

Shopko Optical in Green Bay, Wis. has instituted several sustainability initiatives in their optical centers and labs. “Overall, we have had positive support from our teams and our patients on these initiatives,” said Kirk Lauterback, Shopko’s chief experience officer.

There’s a wide range of adoption as of now, but the trend is accelerating. VM’s editors talked to a cross-section of retailers, ECPs and suppliers about the crescendo of involvement and commitment to environmental and sustainability (ESG) causes. Here’s what they had to say.

MyEyeDr. Continues to Expand Sustainable Eco-Friendly Options

RALEIGH, N.C.—MyEyeDr. has been carrying sustainable eyewear as part of its product portfolio for many years now, according to Christina Perraud, EVP, merchandising and supply chain, for the national group. She told VM, “Whether made from upcycled materials like fishing nets or water bottles and bio- or plant-based resins, we are definitely seeing an increasing trend where brands are releasing eco-friendly capsule collections within their in-line assortments, so we are able to still offer those great designer brands but without having to sacrifice sustainability or quality.”

Perraud added, “We will definitely continue to explore new and innovative ways to increase a sustainable path forward. We have incorporated many practices when it comes to frame materials but would love to see the same efforts by suppliers to address waste in categories like demo lenses, frame packaging and contact lenses. In addition, it would be great to see more eco-friendly recycling programs for trading in old or unusable frames and contact lenses.”

Some of the brands MyEyeDr. carry include Upcycled Plastic from Dragon. This is produced through a new method, where a number of recycled plastic water bottles are repurposed, or “upcycled” into a frame. The fabrication process begins with the plastic bottles being manually separated and selected. Next, the recycled waste is washed thoroughly and cut into chips. The chips are pressed into small pellets, then melted down and injected into a frame.

Another is plant-based resin in the JOE collection. This is resin made from castor-bean oil, a cleaner alternative to standard petroleum-based plastics.

Skaga features responsible acetate frames, featuring over 60 percent bio-based materials. And in Ferragamo, Tritan Renew, from Eastman, is a sustainable material using more than 56 percent of sustainable materials made from bio-based and certified recycled content.

Perraud noted, “The majority of brands are now featuring eco symbols on demo frames as well as through various types of POP materials, so these tools help sustainable styles be distinguished easily from others on the frame boards.”

She added, “We will definitely continue to explore new and innovative ways to increase a sustainable path forward. We have incorporated many practices when it comes to frame materials but would love to see the same efforts by suppliers to address waste in categories like demo lenses, frame packaging and contact lenses.”

National Vision Embraces Sustainable Goals Across Its Company, Lab and Product Mix

DULUTH, Ga.—National Vision, Inc. (NVI) has been escalating its sustainability efforts for a few years now. Its Sustainabiity Report, launched in 2021, spells out much of that from the view of a national retail operation with over 1,000 locations, laboratories, associates and other social purpose activities. Inside NVI, the company shined a light on work done at the group’s Plano, Texas laboratory. The company’s website details the initiative.

“At every step of the lab operations, we look for opportunities to be cost-conscious while maintaining high quality—because for our customers, affordability really matters. We want more people to be able to afford the eyewear they need, and efficiency in our lab operations is a big part of how National Vision is able to achieve that,” said Bob McKinzie, National Vision’s senior vice president of manufacturing and supply chain.

“As socially responsible corporate citizens, we proactively look for opportunities to make decisions that are both low-cost and environmentally aware. Often, these go hand-in-hand.”

“National Vision’s optical lab in Plano has achieved the lowest operating cost of all labs in our lab network. Despite rising costs for materials and increased wages for workers, the Plano lab has still been able to drive down costs and set a new standard for lab operations,” he said.

On the merchandising side in the stores, sustainable collections have been examined for a while. Megan Molony, NVI’s chief merchandising and managed care officer, told VM, “Social and environmental responsibility are part of National Vision’s DNA. We’ll continue to evolve our product offering to ensure we’re offering environmentally responsible eyewear that also meets our customers’ budgets, vision and fashion needs.

“This year, we launched our Green Love frame collection, which uses Eastman Acetate Renew. With the Green Love collection, we’re excited to be able to offer frames that showcase groundbreaking carbon renewal technologies and what’s possible as the industry advances in our ability to recycle complex plastic wastes in an impactful way.”

Molony added, “We also worked with CooperVision last year to be able to offer 100 percent net plastic neutral contact lenses in Eyeglass World and America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses.

“Affordability is core to our customers, and giving them the ability to choose products that reflect their sustainability values is critical,” she said. “Being mindful of that, we strive to find quality products that deliver both affordability and positive impact. Our customers shouldn’t have to sacrifice affordability, style or quality in order to choose a product that does good in the world.

“We're seeing this extend beyond environmental impact, too, as our customers have responded very positively to products that represent their values in other areas, such as our frames capsule celebrating Pride, or our new See Inside frames collection honoring mental health awareness, as well as participating in the philanthropic register giving program we initiated last year.”

As for raising the profile of sustainability with customers, Molony added, “We want people to know that sustainable products are available even before they come in the door, so we leverage our website, social channels, email and in-store signage to tell these product stories. Associate training is key, so that they can be a resource for customers who want to know what impact their purchase is making.”

Standard Optical Embraces Sustainable Products

Standard Optical, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, has been carrying products made from recycled or upcycled ocean plastics, etc since 2016. Aaron Schubach, CEO of Standard Optical Company, said, “As a part of our house collections we have five lines under the Schubach Originals label. We launched S.O. Green in May of 2021. This product was brought to us by our manufacturing partner in China. The line consists of 18 SKU’s made from castor seed oil. This was our first larger scale commitment from an inventory standpoint, to sustainable products and practices.

“Sustainable products is just a part of our overall commitment to being an eco-conscious company with sustainable and ethical practices. This starts with a vision statement and policy about this commitment. This includes current recycling programs and reusable programs with Lions Club as well as concerned errors to reduce single use items like plastic bags. Product sustainability is a critical piece to the implementation of this vision. We quiz our manufacturing partners in China and we intend to launch this amongst our current vendor partners, regarding their business practices both ethically and sustainably,” he said.

Standard Optical currently carries sustainable products from Visual Eyes Eyewear and a new vendor Sea2see, a European company with a very successful ocean cleanup mission and excellent ophthalmic and sunglass designs.

The response from Standard Optical’s customers has been positive. “Utah, being home to four national parks and one of the countries premier outdoor recreation destinations, sustainability and an overall concern for our planet is not a new concept and frankly it’s expected of Utah-based businesses. Both Smith Sport Optics from Safilo and Zeal Optics from Maui Jim are both Utah sunwear companies that have had sustainable products and messaging for nearly a decade.

While the retailer has some placards that explain some of the benefits of bio-acetates, Schubach said, “It is our intent to make our overall eco-friendly and sustainability corporate mission something that is front and center during the patient experience. Alongside our eco-vision statement patients will be made aware of the eco and ethics standards that we hold our vendors and manufacturers to when it comes to our commitment to reduce waste and single-use packaging.

Schubach believes that while some patients might be willing to pay more for these products, it’s the company’s goal to bring in offerings that are at the same or better pricing. “Given the current economic conditions and the frugal nature of the typical Utah family, we understand the way to make sustainable products commonplace is by doing whatever we can to keep the prices low,” he concluded.