SAN RAMON, Calif.—Recognizing an important trend, CooperVision launched a social media contest in January as a way to encourage eyecare professionals to be more sustainable in their practices and daily lives. The company noted at the time that this social media effort—and the sustainability actions that it highlighted—would be a way for optometry practices to differentiate themselves through the implementation of sustainable practices in their own offices. As it turns out, this program was just the first step in what is turning into a big leap for CooperVision in 2021 with its recent announcement of a net plastic-neutral initiative with its clariti 1 portfolio of contact lenses.

For CooperVision and its parent CooperCompanies, sustainability and corporate social responsibility have been part of the core focus for the past several years. In 2019, the parent company announced its alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global framework and action plan intended to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity and peace for all by 2030.

The new CooperVision initiative is all about sustainability and social good, and answering patients’ and doctors’ requests for a more sustainable approach to contact lenses.

“The commitment around sustainability for us is really recognizing opportunities that we have to make a positive impact on the environment,” Melissa Kiewe, CooperVision’s vice president, North America marketing, told Vision Monday in a recent interview. “And, quite honestly, it’s just the feeling that it’s the right thing to do for our customers, for their patients and for the planet. This very much aligns with the company’s philosophy.”

As part of its commitment to sustainability, CooperVision has partnered with the Canadian organization Plastic Bank, a group that is working to “revolutionize the world’s recycling systems to create a regenerative, inclusive, and circular plastic economy.” Other companies working with Plastic Bank are SC Johnson, Henkel and Marks & Spencer. Plastic Bank is committed to reducing ocean-bound plastic.

“Through this partnership, it will allow us to make the full family of clariti 1 day lenses the first net plastic-neutral contact lens,” Kiewe noted.

Basically how the program works is that for every box of clariti 1 day that is distributed in the U.S.—the program became live in January 2021—CooperVision is committed to the collection, processing and reuse of general plastic waste in the environment that is equal to the weight in the plastic that is contained in clariti 1 day lenses and packaging. “What that means is that it’s not only the plastic in the lens itself, but it’s the plastic in the blister pack, plastic in the adhesive and any plastic in the packaging laminate—even any plastic that might be in the ink printed on the boxes,” Kiewe said.

One of the inspiring elements of working with Plastic Bank is that the organization is working to reduce ocean-bound plastic while also providing opportunities for social good, Kiewe said. The way the model works is that Plastic Bank enables people in developing countries who live in coastal communities to collect ocean-bound plastic and in exchange for that plastic they receive compensation for essential resources such as food and clean water.

Based on the weight of what CooperVision distributes, Plastic Bank will help the company extract an equal amount from the environment, Kiewe said.

Another unique aspect of the program is that this partnership makes it easy for doctors and their patients to be involved, and to be more sustainable in their routines. “It literally is as simple as anyone who prescribes, recommends or wears clariti 1 day is having an impact and is now part of this initiative,” she said.

“For ECPs what’s exciting is that this really gives them an opportunity to provide added value to their patients,” she said.

The early feedback on the program has been overwhelmingly positive, she said, in part because both internal and external research have validated the key role sustainability is playing today in the minds of both patients and ECPs.

“We are monitoring the trends and some of the things that we’ve noticed is that American consumers are paying more attention to the sustainability practices of the companies that they choose to do business with,” Kiewe said. “And we know it matters to ECPs as well because they are also consumers.”

Indeed, a 2020 survey by the Recycling Partnership found that 70 percent of Americans say they will go out of their way to support a company that makes a strong effort to be sustainable. And 78 percent are more conscious of supporting green and sustainable companies compared with five years ago.

“That definitely says to me that sustainability is becoming a higher priority,” Kiewe said. And ECPs also have expressed similar sentiments anecdotally with CooperVision representatives, she added.

CooperVision also commissioned its own survey that showed 93 percent of ECPs agree that keeping plastic out of the ocean is important to them, and 84 percent of the ECPs agree that manufacturers needs to take responsibility for the waste that they create.

“For us, we have been focused on the manufacturing side and now [with the Plastic Bank partnership] we are able to bring it up front on the distribution side, which is really exciting,” Kiewe said.

Kiewe said the focus area of the program with Plastic Bank would initially be the clariti 1 day family of lenses, which is the most-prescribed CooperVision lens. Given the weight of the plastic content associated with all of the clariti 1 day products distributed in the U.S., she said CooperVision believes its commitment to being net plastic neutral “will make an immediate impact on managing ocean-bound plastic.”

CooperVision expects to announce more details around this new partnership with Plastic Bank and the ways in which it will be promoted to customers and patients in the near future. Kiewe said it will “absolutely be working really closely with doctors to make sure that we can help them to strengthen that dialogue and connection with their patients. We’re really excited about what’s yet to come.”

She added, “For us as a company, this is a very significant moment around sustainability. It’s a marketing program, but it’s so much more. ... And what’s great about this is that it has an even more direct tie to ECPs and their patients.”