In the broadest sense, “sustainability” may refer to the ability to maintain or support a process continuously over time. In business, sustainability seeks to prevent the depletion of natural or physical resources, so that they will remain available for the long term. While a specific definition may be difficult to agree on, in 2023, major contact lens companies have all agreed on one thing: the time to implement sustainability initiatives is now.

Among the sustainability initiatives taken by the likes of Bausch + Lomb, Alcon, CooperVision, and Johnson and Johnson Vision are major recycling efforts for contact lenses, which benefit manufacturers, eyecare professionals and patients alike. “Eyecare practitioners appreciate the complimentary recycling bins we provide as it not only helps their practice collect used materials, but it is also a visual reminder for their patients to do so as well,” said Amy Butler, vice president, global environment, health, safety and sustainability, Bausch + Lomb.Other en vironmental, social, and governance (ESG) and sustainability initiatives gaining traction in the optical industry include tackling climate change, plastic waste reduction, reducing operational emissions, and protecting natural resources.

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Alcon Expands Plastic Bank Partnership
With sustainability gaining traction in the eyecare arena, Alcon has set its focus on reducing operational emissions and waste with two major environmental initiatives in the works.

By 2030, Alcon plans to become carbon neutral across global operations (scope 1 and 2 emissions) while diverting 100 percent of non-hazardous waste generated at manufacturing sites and distribution centers from landfill.

“We also have initiatives to reduce waste, emissions, and chemicals of concern associated with the use of our products,” said Charles Herget, vice president, global head of ESG, Alcon. “Our environmental sustainability scorecard evaluates new and existing products against indicators like water and energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste.”

He said, “The Green Innovations Surgical Team (GreenIST) identifies opportunities to increase sustainability and reduce waste for commercialized products within our surgical franchise. By removing the tray from our Centurion Fluid Management System pack, we reduced material waste by approximately 90 percent. We also changed our printed directions for use booklets to electronic, reducing paper usage and package weight by 53 percent.”

Alcon’s sustainability efforts are focused on supporting its new and ongoing initiatives. “In addition, we have a partnership with Plastic Bank through which every ton of plastic used in our surgical and vision care businesses to enhance the safety and convenience of our contact lenses, contact lens packaging, and preloaded intraocular lens (IOL) delivery systems, will be offset by the removal of a ton of ocean-bound plastic waste from communities around the world,” Herget added.

Alcon recently announced that it was expanding its Plastic Bank partnership in 2023 to further support sustainability efforts. Having prevented the equivalent of over 30 million plastic bottles from reaching the ocean in 2022, Alcon is broadening the partnership with Vision Care products to reach more than 90 countries in 2023.

Within the vision sector, Alcon is finding that ECPs have become responsive to their sustainability initiatives and are eager to be at the forefront of these efforts both for their practices and for their patients.

“The eye health care system is passionate about contributing to sustainability initiatives,” Herget said. “We have had numerous positive reactions from ECPs on our initiatives.”

In 2022, the Alcon Green Tiger Team (an employee interest group focusing on environmental initiatives from a commercial lens) initiated a program to create training materials and guidelines to be placed in operating rooms, showing where and how to recycle surgical leftovers and how to properly dispose of recyclable materials.

Also in 2022, Alcon earned the GreenCircle Zero Waste to Landfill certification for three of its ophthalmic drop and solutions manufacturing facilities—two in Fort Worth, Texas, and one in Singapore. Each of the three facilities, which supply Alcon products to markets around the world, diverted 100 percent of total waste from landfills.

Bausch + Lomb: Implementing Sustainable Practices
Since 2009, Bausch + Lomb has been dedicated to implementing sustainable business practices and identifying opportunities that support its stakeholders. Now, as a publicly traded company, it continues to build and enhance the environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives around the world.

“We do this by taking steps each and every day to reduce our impact to waste streams, water usage, energy consumption and carbon emissions to minimize our environmental footprint. We are also committed to the highest standards of corporate governance,” said Amy Butler, vice president, global environment, health, safety and sustainability, Bausch + Lomb.

“We have a strong system of internal controls that support our compliance with applicable laws and regulations around the world and enable us to maintain stakeholders’ trust. Lastly, product quality and safety are two of our most important responsibilities. We equate business excellence with quality excellence, which is why we embed quality and safety management practices throughout our product’s lifecycles to support the well-being of our patients around the world.

“While we are proud of the programs we have implemented to date and continue to develop initiatives, we recognize the dynamic nature of the ESG landscape presents continual opportunities for learning and improvement. We are committed to continue to improve our interactions with the natural, human and social capital upon which our enduring success depends.”

According to Butler, ESG initiatives are embedded in all Bausch + Lomb’s global operating plans, enabling widespread impact at both the corporate level and across its manufacturing and supply chain locations. Each business segment is empowered to develop and manage customized initiatives designed specifically to improve local operations and preserve, protect and sustain the community, the environment and natural resources so they are available for future generations.

“Our company’s sustainability focus has been consistent for more than a decade on fuel, energy, water and waste (FEWW metrics),” Butler said. “Our combined efforts are focused on making a positive impact that will ultimately benefit our employees, consumers, eyecare professionals and patients.”

According to Butler, feedback on its overarching sustainability program has been tremendously positive.

“Our ONE by ONE program is also an integral part of many optometrists’ eyecare practices in the U.S. Today, nearly 13,000 eyecare practices are registered as official recycling centers of our ONE by ONE recycling program,” Butler said.

Eyecare practitioners appreciate the complimentary recycling bins we provide as it not only helps their practice collect these used materials, but it is also a visual reminder for their patients to do so as well. Once the bin is filled, the optometry practice ships the materials to TerraCycle for proper recycling, using a shipping label prepaid by Bausch + Lomb. Used lens and eyecare materials collected for the Biotrue Eye Care Recycling program can be mailed to TerraCycle directly using a Bausch + Lomb prepaid shipping label.

“These programs have also helped to eliminate barriers for consumers who were previously hesitant to use single dose unit eye drops or wear contact lenses, particularly daily disposables, because of the waste they create.”

As of March 2023, B + L’s exclusive ONE by ONE and Biotrue Eye Care recycling programs have recycled a total of 65.8 million units, or 397,194 pounds, of used contact lenses, eyecare and lens care materials.

According to Butler, Bausch + Lomb provides updates on its ongoing ESG initiatives through its website and its annual global ESG report. The 2022 ESG report launched in early May.

Bausch + Lomb has made, and continues to make, notable strides in reducing waste in its operations and from its products, according to Butler. “Our success is achieved through a variety of initiatives, including solar energy, co-generation power, water conservation, food waste, green packaging commitments, product recycling and more. We continue to build upon our recycling programs, which to date have collected more than 65 million units of contact lens, eyecare and lens care materials.

“A major project we will complete in 2023 is construction of a cryogenic plant for production of high purity nitrogen gas in Rochester, New York. When the nitrogen plant goes online, it will eliminate the need for about 50 tanker truck deliveries of nitrogen to the Bausch + Lomb manufacturing facility each month. This project will reduce CO2 GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions estimated at 800 tons annually.”

CooperVision’s Net Plastic Neutral Initiative
CooperVision is dedicated to more than developing quality products that help people see better each day. The company has also demonstrated a strong heritage to doing so sustainably—with a strong track record of sustainable manufacturing and operations over the last several years focused “on areas in which we can make the greatest impact,” according to Melissa Kiewe, vice president of marketing at CooperVision.

In 2021, CooperVision pioneered the world’s first net plastic neutral contact lens with clariti 1 day contact lenses in the U.S., and has continued to expand the scope of the global initiative. It funds Plastic Bank’s collection, processing, and reuse of general ocean-bound plastic waste that is equal to the weight of the plastic contained in designated products in 27 countries throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.

In the U.S., this includes the clariti 1 day, MyDay, MiSight 1 day, and Biofinity brands. Globally, the effort has already prevented the equivalent of more than 160 million plastic bottles from entering the oceans and has positively impacted more than 5,600 collectors in 345 communities around the globe.

“CooperVision is more committed than ever to sustainability and environmental health,” Kiewe said. “We have spent years developing best-in-class, environmentally conscious manufacturing processes resulting in award-winning conservation efforts in Puerto Rico and prestigious sustainability certifications in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Spain, and the U.K. And here in the U.S., all of our Rochester, N.Y. operations are powered by 100 percent renewable electricity.

“As a medical device manufacturer, plastic plays a critical role in the hygienic delivery and sterile protection of our products, and how that plastic is managed is important to us. That’s why we launched CooperVision’s net plastic neutral initiative, which makes it easy for anyone who recommends, prescribes, or wears our most popular contact lens brands to make a positive impact on the environment.

“In addition, supporting this initiative changes lives, as our partnership enables Plastic Bank collectors in nearly 200 coastal communities to clean up their towns and villages while earning credits for necessities such as groceries, cooking fuel, school tuition and health insurance,” she said.

Through the CooperVision net plastic neutral initiative, thousands of eyecare professionals and their patients have contributed to the sustainability effort, simply by prescribing and wearing CooperVision contact lenses. “Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, as practitioners are grateful to have more sustainable options—particularly for patients who are more environmentally conscious,” said Kiewe.

Information about CooperVision’s commitment to sustainability—including an impact dashboard that provides regular updates on how much plastic waste has been collected in collaboration with Plastic Bank—is available at In addition, there are tools and materials available through its sales team that eyecare professionals can use to promote and educate the net plastic neutral initiative in their practices.

“One of the greatest advantages of the CooperVision net plastic neutral initiative is that it’s automatic. Eyecare professionals and patients don’t need to do anything beyond prescribe and wear clariti 1 day, MyDay, MiSight 1 day, or Biofinity contact lenses,” said Kiewe.

“This year’s expansion of the CooperVision net plastic neutral initiative represents the next step in our steadfast commitment to making a positive impact on the environment because it’s the right thing to do—for eyecare professionals, their patients, and the planet—but we won’t stop there. At our Puerto Rico production site, our new, innovative CHP (combined heat and power) installation has lowered greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously supporting increased production volumes—a rare combination,” she said.

Johnson & Johnson Vision: Tackling Climate Change and Waste Reduction
Johnson & Johnson Vision is committed to creating a healthier world with sustainability efforts focused in three key areas: tackling climate change, waste reduction and protecting natural resources.

“We constantly innovate how we produce, transport, and responsibly dispose of our products to reduce waste. For example, 89 percent of raw materials at Acuvue contact lens manufacturing sites are recycled,” said Jacqueline Henderson, president, EMEA, Johnson & Johnson Vision. “We’re also on track to help Johnson & Johnson meet its carbon neutrality goal by 2030, having significantly reduced our carbon footprint in the last 10 years. Through significant investment in renewable energy, all Acuvue contact lenses are now made with 100 percent renewable electricity.

“We continue to strive to limit our use of natural resources and find new solutions to protect the environment. In 2023, we removed the plastic pouches on delivery notices for all our Acuvue orders, saving 12.7 tons of plastic each year across EMEA.”

According to Henderson, Johnson & Johnson Vision does not support one specific organization in its sustainability efforts, “but instead as a global manufacturer, we recognize our responsibility to help protect the planet by leading the conversation and driving meaningful action on sustainability as a business, looking at how we can tackle key issues, from recycling and reducing our carbon footprint, to optimizing our packaging.

“Our progress in environmental sustainability also includes engagement with our suppliers with a focus on advancing climate resilience; managing waste and water impacts; and improving product sustainability. We also work closely with our customers and partners to share information about sustainability initiatives and practices and explore how together we can create a healthier world.”

Johnson & Johnson Vision is also aware of the heightened interest eyecare patients are taking in sustainability products and services and are addressing these concerns with their eyecare professionals.

“We know from ECPs that patients are increasingly asking them about the sustainability of eyecare products and services, and having solutions and an understanding of the sustainability credentials of our products can be helpful,” said Henderson. “In 2019, we launched the Acuvue Contact Lens Recycling Program as a convenient solution to help reduce waste for both our customers and patients.

“The program currently operates through a network of over 1,000 public drop-off locations, in partnership with TerraCycle and opticians across the U.K. Since launch, the program has seen over 11 million contact lenses, blister packs and foils recycled. This represents roughly 52,904 kg of recycled material.

“Research we commissioned in 2022 also found that 67 percent of contact lens wearers and those considering contacts were more likely to switch to an optician that offered contact lens recycling,” Henderson said.

Getting the word out about its programs and initiatives is another important part of the company’s sustainability efforts. Johnson & Johnson accomplishes this in a number of different ways.

“We actively drive awareness of our sustainability programs and initiatives in a variety of ways—from having dedicated information and educational resources available on our global websites, through to hosting in 2022 our first ever LinkedIn Live discussion on sustainability. We have also been invited to speak at major industry events on sustainability and in 2022 were the first major sustainability sponsor of the European Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgeons (ESCRS).

“When it comes to driving awareness of our patient initiatives like the Acuvue Contact Lens Recycling Program we work with our customers to promote the scheme in store and have a series of consumer facing assets including videos etc., to show how it works. In the last year, we have also worked with a series of micro-influencers to promote the scheme and drive awareness amongst consumers.”

“As we look to the future, we will continue to demand more from ourselves as we work toward our sustainable vision and creating a healthier planet. We have a number of initiatives in the pipeline,” said Henderson.

ECP Viewpoint: Line of Sight

As the founder and owner of Line of Sight in New York, Jennifer Tsai, OD, and her team are passionate about eye health and understand that sustainability continues to play an ever-growing role in her patient’s overall wellness. “There has been an increased awareness of sustainability in the eyecare industry,” Dr. Tsai said. “The progression toward finding solutions that reduce environmental impact without compromising patient safety has been gradual but progressing in a positive direction.

“As an ECP, climate change is important to me because it can have an impact on eyecare. Environmental factors such as pollution, UV index, and toxins can affect the vision and eye health of my patients. Sustainability is crucial to our practice as it involves finding ways to intentionally make the world a healthier place while also improving people's eye health. This includes reducing waste in our office, recycling, and choosing sustainable materials and manufacturing processes for eyewear and contact lens care.”

Speaking with patients about sustainability efforts in her practice has become commonplace for Tsai and her team and often leads to a trust factor that goes a long way toward overall eye health.

“Our patients are often relieved when we initiate conversations about sustainability and take action to contribute. We believe in providing high-quality care, and our patients trust us to do so when we also prioritize sustainability,” Dr. Tsai said. “To this end, we set up intentional recycling bins in our practice and educate our clients on sustainable at home contact lens and eyewear practices. We also encourage them to contribute by bringing in their used contact lens materials for recycling and used eyewear to us for donation.

Dr. Tsai noted, “We have gone paperless in our studio and regularly recycle throughout the work week. We collect donated eyewear from our local community to donate to organizations that help underserved communities. Additionally, we accept all used contact lenses, contact blister packs, contact cases, and multipurpose solution bottle caps from any brand to be recycled. It is our priority to support and carry eyewear and eyecare brands that prioritize sustainability as well.”

ECP Viewpoint: Athens Eye Care

As the owner of two independent eyecare practices in Ohio—Athens Eye Care and Hocking Hills Eye Care—Shane Foster, OD, needs to keep in touch with his patients of all ages, including identifying emerging trends and initiatives that not only serve his practices but also contribute to the well-being of his patients and the global environment.

“I think the topic of sustainability continues to gain interest among the public as we see more and more reports about climate change and the future of our global environment. Millennials were the first generation to really focus on green initiatives and protecting the environment, and Gen Z has followed behind with even more emphasis on sustainability,” said Dr. Foster.

“These two generational groups are not only more active and vocal about green initiatives, but they also make decisions about where to make purchases and what companies to support based on those companies’ involvement in sustainable practices.”

He said, “To me, sustainability means including the environmental impact into your thought process when it comes to making business decisions. We live in a world and a society that is inherently causing harm to the environment through waste, emissions, and use of resources, but we can make small decisions in our everyday lives and in our business plans to help mitigate that damage.

“My practice is in an area where we don’t have to bring up sustainability with our patients—they are often the first to mention it,” he said. “They love the recycling bins all over the office, and they appreciate that we are a One by One TerraCycle center for contact lens waste. Our doctors firmly believe that a daily disposable contact lens is the cleanest, safest, and healthiest option for our patients. The number one concern when discussing this with patients usually isn’t cost—it is the amount of waste that a daily contact lens produces. I am grateful that I can discuss the program and Plastic Bank with them to help put their minds at ease.”

“CooperVision has been a great partner in our practice, not only for their products and support, but also because they truly value sustainability as a core guiding principle in everything they do. Their support of Plastic Bank to make their products truly plastic neutral is such an amazing initiative, and it truly helps me, my staff, and our patients feel better about the amount of plastic waste that is created by contact lens wearers.”

Dr. Foster also identifies Bausch + Lomb as “a wonderful partner in sustainability, with the wide availability of its One by One TerraCycle program for contact lens waste. We educate our staff and our patients on the proper way to recycle all waste, since some items like solution bottles and the boxes they come in can be recycled in the traditional way, but contact lens packaging, bottle caps, vials, and contact lens cases must be sent to TerraCycle.”

Sustainability Aids in Patient Satisfaction at Complete Eye Care of Medina

At Complete Eye Care of Medina in Minnesota, the importance of sustainability continues to grow in importance for both the optometrists on staff and for its patients, which are increasing curious as to what steps their eyecare provider is taking in this area.

“Yes, I think the environment around sustainability and companies has become more important,” said Gina Welsey, OD, and an optometrist on staff at Complete Eye Care. “The ability for a company to demonstrate sustainable practices is incredibly valuable in showing they care and what they value long-term.

“Sustainability means working with ophthalmic companies who are thinking into the future, knowing that what choices they make now impact people for years to come. This can be related to materials, but also services that are in the realm of prevention and long-term outcomes. It can be related to the environment or social outcomes in general.”

According to Dr. Wesley, at Complete Eye Care of Medina, one of the biggest areas of sustainability involves recycling programs for its contact lens users.

“I think the most common aspect of sustainability with patients is in our contact lens area for waste,” said Dr. Wesley. “Ninety percent of our lens wearers are in daily disposables, and we promote and assist patients in taking advantage of the free used contact lens, eyecare and lens care recycling programs offered by Bausch + Lomb, which is through a collaboration with TerraCycle. These programs recycle all brands of used contact lens packaging (top foil, blister pack) and the lenses themselves, as well as used all brands of eye drop single dose units, lens cases, lens solution caps and certain eye drop multi-dose bottles. Patients are happy to know these materials are being repurposed into items like picnic tables and benches.”

According to Dr. Wesley, Complete Eye Care of Medina is an official recycling center of the Bausch + Lomb ONE by ONE recycling program, “which is wonderfully generous in allowing all lenses from any company to be recycled through their program. We also use the Bausch + Lomb Biotrue Eye Care Recycling program to recycle our used eyecare and lens care materials.

“We not only recycle with special programs, but we also work to partner with companies who are B-corp certified and have the same long-term goals in sustainable practices for not only the environment but for the health of our patients.”

Vancouver Vision Clinic Sees Sustainability as Growing Priority for Patients

As one of six optometrists on board at Vancouver Vision Clinic in Vancouver, Wash., Raj Patel, OD, FAAO, is always on the lookout for emerging trends and areas of concern among his patients. Currently near the top of that list is “sustainability”, which continues to grow in importance at his practice.

“Sustainability is a growing priority for patients. It feels like since the COVID pandemic began, there are more people pursuing sustainability (green) behaviors consistently,” said Dr. Patel. “I imagine the use of disposable masks, gloves, plastic partitions, and bottles of hand cleaners has brought forward more intention around increasing sustainable behaviors. In casual conversations with our patients, friends and neighbors we will probably all see that there is more behavior change around everyone's own sustainability practices.

“Really, sustainability is how we leave the earth for our kids. I do think enhanced awareness of environmental issues and a sense of responsibility is contributing to our patients and staff's purchasing decisions. Most people believe in recycling and are taking notice of the need to make a positive impact on the environment and want to do their part.”

Sustainability initiatives at Vancouver Vision Clinic include contact lens recycling bins placed throughout both of its offices, and recycling of paper, contact lens blister packs, plastics, cans and cardboard.

“Our contact lens technicians and doctors message our patients on the ability to recycle their contact lens packaging in our offices,” Dr. Patel said. “And one of our offices has motion sensor lights throughout most of the building that help curb energy use.”

While sustainability initiatives are top of mind for many eyecare patients, Dr. Patel and his staff realize that others may need some guidance.

“First it's important to know that sustainability does not resonate the same with all,” he said. “Those that the message is important to are very enthusiastic and tell others. We let our contact lens patients know that the blister packs, foil, used contact lens can all be recycled by bringing those to our office. Patients are commonly enthusiastic about this. Overwhelming, patients like the recycling efforts and it makes them feel better about using daily disposable contacts. Managing plastic wastes, and improving recycling efforts figures prominently in our patients plans for sustainability.