STATE COLLEGE, Pa.—In 2019, CooperVision executives wanted to highlight the company’ progress in the area of sustainability to eyecare professionals from across the country. This led to the creation of what CooperVision called its clariti 1-day experience—a field-trip type excursion to the company’s main manufacturing facility for clariti 1 day lenses in Alajuela, Costa Rica, where sustainability is the center of daily operations.

This trip, in which more than 20 ECPs participated, led to some lasting impressions. One of the doctors on the trip was Michael Cymbor, OD, FAAO, of Nittany Eye Associates in State College, Pa. Cymbor thought he was relatively eco-friendly in his daily routines, especially at home, but came away from his visit to the 100,000-square-foot contact lens manufacturing facility in Alajuela with a renewed perspective. He returned to central Pennsylvania with a raft of new ideas and topics he wanted to address with the staff at the practice’s five offices.

“Growing up I was that kid who, when we were building tree houses, said ‘Let’s not put a nail into that tree. Let’s figure out a way to rope this because I don’t want to kill a tree.’ So early on I had some real environmental kind of leanings. It’s something that has been with me,” Cymbor told Vision Monday. “I felt going into the [Costa Rica trip] that we were doing a pretty good job,” he said. “But the clariti 1-day experience really helped me to understand that I had a big blind spot as it relates to work.”

Cymbor said the clariti 1-day experience helped him to bridge that gap and helped him realize that sustainability isn’t something that can be compartmentalized to the home. “This is something that I can be doing at work, and we have all of these things that I can be doing at work that I had very little idea about. But the clariti 1-day experience helped me to focus in on that,” he noted.

His first step was to organize a staff meeting as a way of generating enthusiasm for introducing new sustainability-centered ideas at the office. What surprised him is how receptive the 85 team members were to his ideas.

“At the next all-staff meeting, I mentioned how sustainability was really important to me, and what I didn’t anticipate is the number of people—both in number and in terms of their enthusiasm—who stepped forward and said that is important and how can we all work together for the betterment of our world.”

One of the first things the practices targeted was the use of plastic utensils during lunches and breaks. As a solution, Nittany Eye offered to buy back silverware from staff members who had extra pieces at home. It also asked partner companies that typically brought in lunch during their office visits to stop bringing in plastic utensils.

“We said no longer are we going to tolerate single-use plastic utensils,” Cymbor said. “We’re all going to use silverware and plates… and eat lunch that way.”

Patients’ reaction also has been positive and supportive of the sustainability mindset. Indeed, with its locations scattered around Penn State University and the State College area, Nittany Eye’s patient population is made up of a large, eco-conscious demographic group.

Cymbor said “one of the biggest pushbacks” he had from patients when he suggested switching to daily disposable lenses is the increase in plastic waste that dailies generate.

“Prior to the clariti 1-day experience, I really didn’t know how to answer that [objection] in a good way,” he noted. But after the visit to the clariti facility in Alajuela, Cymbor said he was prepared with all kinds of information about how environmentally friendly the site is in its daily operations. “I could have the type of discussion that they could connect to,” he said.

One of the more recent efforts involves working with TerraCycle and the recycling of masks that staff members—or even patients—are wearing and disposing. Nittany Eye has placed a recycling bin at the main exit door where staffers can discard their used masks at the end of the day.

He acknowledges that the Costa Rica trip has changed the way he views sustainability around the workplace. “The clariti 1-day experience lit something in me that I already had but it wasn’t focused in the most positive way,” he said. “Now it has become more of a part of me and it has allowed me to become who I could be from a sustainability standpoint. That’s a really cool thing.”