Why the dental industry needs to "go green"

June 1, 2010
The dental industry can take a pointer from Lee Scott, former CEO of Walmart who stated at the April Fortune Brainstorm Green conference, "What Walmart has done is approach this [being green] from a business standpoint and not from a point of altruism.

By Joe Kennedy, DentaCAD

The dental industry can take a pointer from Lee Scott, former CEO of Walmart who stated at the April Fortune Brainstorm Green conference, "What Walmart has done is approach this [being green] from a business standpoint and not from a point of altruism. If we focus on waste, we can make Walmart a better company and, at the same time, become a better citizen." Indeed, Walmart, the company with arguably the largest carbon footprint in the U.S., has realized enormous economic benefits from going green.

The dental industry is well poised to do the same. One area ripe for reform is the use of paper, which despite predictions dating back as far as the 1980s is still the primary medium for the capture, storage, and dissemination of information. But technology is changing that. Just look around you; almost any information or data you need is in an electronic format as newspapers, magazines, and even books are available across the Internet, on our phones, on Kindles and now iPads.

The advantages are obvious as the transitioning from paper reduces demand for trees, but the economic benefits far outweigh the environmental. As one example: formerly when manufacturers needed to advertise new and updated products, they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars creating, printing, and distributing paper literature and catalogs. These costs, falling into their marketing budgets, became a very large part of the total cost.

For years this method of "doing business" was universally accepted, but the inefficiencies and incredible costs of the system are obvious when one considers:

  • The costs, both economic and environmental, of having the catalogs printed.
  • The additional costs incurred in "announcing" the availability of new catalogs.
  • The high costs of handling and shipping the finished product to their dealers.
  • At the dealer's receiving department, the catalogs must then be unboxed, separated, and disseminated to the appropriate departments, taking a lot of time at a considerable expense to the dealer.
  • Once received by the appropriate departments, someone must decide which of the literature in their possession is outdated and should be replaced with the new catalogs. Again, a significant amount of time is spent, and it is time that is not spent servicing the customer, which represents additional expense in the form of lost economic opportunity.

Given the inefficiencies of this system, even after making a considerable investment, the manufacturer cannot know with any certainty that their new catalogs ever "participated in the sale of their products." And this doesn't even take into account the environmental costs associated with this methodology. While there's been little research in this area, it's easy to imagine that each year, hundreds of thousands of pounds of paper catalogs are printed, shipped, and eventually dumped, adding to an already overburdened waste stream.

Fortunately, the dental industry is finding more ways to eliminate the paper costs and inefficiencies. Just as technology has helped eliminate the need for paper for information dissemination in our everyday lives, it's now having an impact in dentistry. Today, most manufacturers have online versions of their "product catalogs" available. They are also distributing their data on CDs. While this has been a great improvement, it's not without inefficiencies as each manufacturer's online offerings are organized slightly differently, making navigation somewhat of a challenge.

Technology advances and cloud computing promise to eliminate these annoyances. There is now an online application that allows manufacturers and dealers to access the latest product information at any time, from virtually any location. This can replace the need for future paper catalogs by ensuring that:

  • All forms of literature can be electronically created and disseminated using what are called PDFs (portable document files). They can either be viewed electronically or printed by the recipient if necessary and at a cost far less than if provided in a printed form from the manufacturer.
  • These PDFs are stored, sorted, and can be easily retrieved from the Internet.
  • Some systems even automatically notify recipients of new and updated files.
  • Some systems have the capability to provide all the electronic tools needed in a typical sale, including:
    • Data relating to size and space (the size of equipment and the space available).
    • Features and benefits.
    • Order creation.
    • Financing plans and options available.
    • Contract creation with the capability of producing a signed contract.
    • Direct link to order entry departments for order placement.
    • Incredibly, all of this can be accomplished in one meeting, without using a single piece of paper in the entire sales-ordering process. This system not only eliminates paper, it returns vast economic benefits! Besides the obvious savings in printing, handling, and shipping, it can reduce order errors that result from missed communications, interpreting handwritten notes, and using outdated specifications, just to name a few.

Our industry has always prided itself as being made up of good citizens who are fully supportive of the new LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System and the "going green" program. The obvious benefits of saving our forests and protecting our environment for future generations are all very worthwhile endeavors, and ones in which we should all participate. And oh, by the way, it has very tangible economic benefits as well. What's not to love?

Joe Kennedy is the founder and owner of The DentaCAD Corporation that has been providing computer products and services for the dental industry for more than 20 years. He can be reached at (800) 572-0958 or [email protected].