Consumers are using their buying power to change the world for the better. According to a GreenPrint survey, 64 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Meanwhile, 78 percent of people are more likely to purchase a product if it has been clearly labeled as environmentally friendly. The optical industry is listening to consumers, developing innovative products and programs to improve sustainability and lessen waste. Lens manufacturers and optical labs have been working together to create products that lower their carbon footprint, as well as create production environments that are green-focused and work toward reducing pre-and post consumer waste.

Zeiss Vision Care has set out to create several initiatives that reflect their commitment to green production. Their Green, Safe and Responsible program features 340 initiatives that are continuously working toward sustainable goals at all their locations around the world.

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The company has integrated into their corporate strategy with sustainable practices that have improved all aspects of their business from products, services, R&D, manufacturing, logistics, supply chain, corporate social responsibility, and other key areas.

“Our strategy aims to improve the social and environmental impact of business operations, view sustainability as a value driver, and leverage sustainability challenges as opportunities. Zeiss pledges its commitment to the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said Matthew Woelbern, head of marketing, US Channels Zeiss Vision Care US.

“Within our sustainability strategy we have set ourselves ambitious goals—annually our Sustainability Reports show what we achieved and what our current environmental footprint and our contributions to society, progress and a sustainable future are,” he said.

The company focuses on three areas of sustainability, including climate action, where the focus is to become carbon-neutral by 2025. Zeiss is also looking at the emissions in its upstream value chains and intends to use energy as efficiently as possible.

The company has also worked to address the circular economy, reducing the impact on the environment by developing products with more renewables and recycled materials.

“It is our clear goal to operate in a carbon-neutral way in our own global activities by 2025,” said Woelbern. “Since 2022, the company is using only green power at its main sites. Compared to 2018-2019, we reduced our CO2 emissions in 2021-2022 by 82 percent. We achieved 17 percent reduction in water consumption, 14 percent in waste volume and 5 percent in energy consumption.

“One tangible example is our 94 percent reduction in water usage since 2018 to produce Rx lenses in our largest volume lab for our NA lab network, located in the Southwest of North America. The same site also manufactures lenses and freeform pucks for Zeiss globally, reducing water consumption by 35 percent in the same period. The image above shows we need to reduce this consumption, since water levels in the local reservoir are significantly reduced; the water line doesn’t even reach the outflow gate level,” he said.

Woelbern said the response from consumers has been positive. Eyecare professionals and retailers often ask about the company’s sustainability strategy, goals and achievements. They also want to know how they can contribute to the programs and address the concerns of buyers who want environmentally and socially responsible products.

“Our impression, based on many discussions and exchanges with customers and consumers, is that sustainability is a ‘must have,’ not an additional factor in their purchasing decision. Companies and brands that are not ambitious and transparent about their contributions to climate protection, nature conservation, society and sustainability are under increasing scrutiny.

“And we know from our customers that companies without a sustainability program are struggling to attract new talent and customers,” he said, adding the company is working to make it easier for their customers to integrate green marketing strategies into day to day operations. They maintain regular marketing and communication to keep customers aware of the latest product.

“We support ECPs in their ‘green’ marketing, e.g., with facts and figures about eyeglass lenses, with our sustainability report and with support/material for their sustainability marketing,” he said. “We provide them with exemplary stories that illustrate what we do and aim for. One additional tangible example is our sustainable packaging to the ECP for fully finished eyeglasses. In 2020, we launched a completely new packaging system using recycled paperboard and soy inks as well as fully recycled microfiber pouches.”

Woelbern said most customers now expect the company to make greener, more sustainable products as a matter of course. He added, they typically don’t see an opportunity to charge a price premium for sustainable products, but it can be a tiebreaker when customers are deciding to purchase from Zeiss versus a competitor. He said the new finished lens packaging reminds customers every day of the company’s commitment to sustainability.

Many companies have been developing packaging that reduces the level of waste that enters landfills. Earlier this year, VSP Vision launched responsibly-sourced shipping packages for online retailer Eyeconic and Visionworks retail locations. The packaging is made from 100 percent FSC-certified recycled corrugated materials, non-toxic ink, and zero plastic and their curbside recyclable.

Each year, Eyeconic ships tens of thousands of eyewear orders. Transitioning to the new packages will reduce the online retailer’s materials usage by 65 percent.

“As a purpose-driven company, we embrace the opportunity to create meaningful solutions to protect the environment and the communities we serve,” said VSP Vision chief marketing officer Wendy Hauteman. “Launching more environmentally friendly shipping boxes is a great way for us to get beautifully designed packages to customers without having to sacrifice our commitment to more sustainable business practices.”

Visionworks is the sixth-largest optical chain in the U.S., with more than 750 retail locations. The deployment of the new boxes across both VSP Vision companies will save the equivalent of 748 mature trees each year, resulting in the annual removal of 35,904 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air.

The move to sustainable packaging was conceived by the VSP Global Innovation Center (GIC), an arm of VSP Vision that works to reimagine the way eyecare and eyewear are delivered to the world. In December 2021, the GIC explored several design concepts for eyewear cases made from plastic alternatives, including bamboo, coffee grounds and mushrooms (mycelium).

In order to achieve the objectives defined by their sustainable development strategy “Eyes on the Planet,” EssilorLuxottica has introduced several local initiatives designed to reduce their environmental footprint in its laboratories, including its Canadian facilities. “Initiatives are multiplying, in various forms, at all our industrial sites,” said Abhishek Nayak and Nicolas Raymond, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) coordinators. “We always have new projects in development. These actions are aimed at improving our three performance indicators at the Toronto site: water conservation, energy conservation and waste management,” said Nayak who oversees EHS for Ontario and the Western regions of Canada.

These include renovation of the sanitary facilities which is underway—a water meter and automatic water saving touchless faucets will replace the old equipment. New installations in the surfacing department—in the next few weeks, new energy efficient rooftop units for heating, ventilation and air conditioning will provide a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of more than 5 tons of CO2 per year. Installation of four new Satisloh ART (AlloyReplacement Technology) blockers that use glue instead of metal alloy for blocking glass, reducing the company’s use of alloy by 50 percent. In addition, Satisloh Art consumes up to five times less water and 50 percent less energy than a traditional blocker. Waste management: At the Toronto industrial laboratory, cardboard will be recycled, and wooden pallets will be collected by a partner who will put them back on the market for reuse.

According to a company spokesperson, “We are excited to announce that we have taken the next step on our sustainability journey at the Atlanta Service Center in the U.S. As part of our commitment to reducing our environmental impact, we have installed water dispensers in the Logistics office area, NAASC and the RxO office area. This will help reduce the use of plastic water bottles and promote a more sustainable workplace.

Hoya Labs are also taking innovation in sustainability to new levels as the industry looks to reduce waste and increase efficiency. In the Hoya Dallas, Texas and Ramsey, Minnesota labs, the company has implemented a recycling program for lens waste created during the surfacing process. They have also converted to 100 percent green energy in the Minnesota lab.

“Our operations team has implemented an alloy recycling program in our Dallas, Texas lab which allows us to recycle 80 percent of the alloys being used,” said Frank De Lille, vice president of operations, adding there are additional sustainability efforts including LED lighting and paper recycling being implemented in all lab locations.

Many labs are also working to develop more sustainable production and recycling programs. At Plastic Plus, Canada’s largest independent optical lab, this goal to achieve a higher level of sustainability has been integrated into everyday operations.

In 2022, the company launched the Green Send Back Program, allowing their customers to return shipping materials for reuse. This includes common packing and marketing materials such as pillow packs, bubble wrap, cardboard wrap and lens sleeves. The result has been a 25 percent reduction in the amount of waste that reaches the landfill.

“We are always striving to find new ways to reduce our environmental impact,” said Plastic Plus vice president Jason Faibish. “Optical lab manufacturing presents a number of challenges in the areas of sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint, and we are working with our suppliers and vendors to find new solutions to make a positive impact locally and globally.”

ABB Optical, the largest distributor of soft contact lenses in the U.S., has continued to take their recycling programs in new and innovative directions. This means switching all their marketing collateral and merchandising materials over to a digital format.

In the lab, the company has worked to reduce the number of materials required to ship their products. This quickly escalated with the addition of corporate sponsored recycling programs at their facilities for products including paper, cans, plastics, batteries, electronics and ink cartridges.

This list goes on, and we keep adding to it in order to recycle anything we can to support the health of the environment,” said Mike Rybacki, senior director of business operations. “We also always make it a point source from vendors that use recycled materials for paper and corrugated cardboard.”

He added, shipping has been overhauled to use the most environmentally friendly materials. “In 2023 we have two big initiatives starting with a stronger bubble wrap sheet that will allow us to eliminate 100 percent of using an inner cardboard protect box,” he said adding the company also plans to go paperless for invoicing as well as convert all shipping information documents to a thermal process which will remove paper usage as well as ink cartridges.

Younger Optics has worked to create a sustainable and environmentally positive workspace for its employees and customers. Director of administration Michael Kennedy told VM that the company meets all environmental requirements, but that several programs have been implemented to take this a step further.

“Younger recycles through our current waste hauler all paper and cardboard products as well as ensuring all electronic waste is properly disposed of and recycled,” he said, adding that all wastes are profiled and checked for recyclability before they are disposed of.

Additionally, the company recently invested in new lighting for their California warehouse. All lighting was replaced with LED technology, including “Smart Lighting ‘’ that adjusts for energy consumption based on the current lighting levels.

“Younger strives to continue to improve its environmental sustainability and reduce its footprint through continued efforts in waste minimization,” he said.