It seems only fitting that after celebrating Earth Day last month, VM tackled the subject of sustainability in the optical industry in our May Cover Story titled "Sustainability Takes Root." Across most sectors of the industry, eyewear companies, contact lens manufacturers, lens makers, optical labs and ECPs are all hopping on the sustainability bandwagon. And for good reason.

One of the most powerful ways that people can help save the environment is to support and buy from companies with a sustainability mindset. These days, Americans are Uber aware about their carbon footprint and sustainability is at the forefront of consumers’ minds as they try to do their part to save our planet.

VM’s Editors talked to a wide variety of optical players for this special feature and one theme resonated—optical companies are adopting, expanding and advancing their sustainability practices and their efforts are inspiring other optical players to get on board the sustainability train. Take a look at an overview of our story below as well as feedback from eyecare professionals about their own sustainability initiatives.

Optical Retailers Weigh In on Sustainability

Sustainability is definitely progressing in the optical business world, from all directions. New conversations with optical retailers large, mid-sized and smaller independents reaffirm that the eyecare and eyewear space is supporting new involvement and the commitment to evaluate and implement sustainable practices. This means operationally within companies, within the supply chain and to the consumer, as more sustainably made optical products are being brought to patients and customers.

In a new Jobson Research Environmental Sustainability Study for Vision Monday’s sister publication, 20/20 Magazine, conducted just last fall, eyecare professionals shared a markedly positive outlook. Over 70 percent said it was “somewhat or very important” to employ environmentally friendly practices to make their location “green.”

Fifty-eight percent said that their patients/consumers felt it was “somewhat or very” important that their practice did this. Seventy percent said they felt their customers put at least some priority on sustainable eyewear products but they’ve noticed more proactive interest, as 19 percent of ECPs said customers were inquiring or requesting information about products with ecologically conscious manufacturing, a peak since Jobson started the survey.

 Christina Perraud.
MyEyeDr. has been carrying sustainable eyewear as part of its product portfolio for many years now, according to Christina Perraud, EVP, merchandising and supply chain, for the national group. She told VM, “Whether made from upcycled materials like fishing nets or water bottles and bio- or plant-based resins, we are definitely seeing an increasing trend where brands are releasing eco-friendly capsule collections within their in-line assortments, so we are able to still offer those great designer brands but without having to sacrifice sustainability or quality.”

Some of the brands MyEyeDr. carry include Upcycled Plastic from Dragon. 

Perraud added, “We will definitely continue to explore new and innovative ways to increase a sustainable path forward. We have incorporated many practices when it comes to frame materials but would love to see the same efforts by suppliers to address waste in categories like demo lenses, frame packaging and contact lenses. In addition, it would be great to see more eco-friendly recycling programs for trading in old or unusable frames and contact lenses.”

 Megan Molony.
National Vision, Inc. (NVI) has been escalating its sustainability efforts for a few years now. Its Sustainability Report, launched in 2021, spells out much of that from the view of a national retail operation with over 1,000 locations, laboratories, associates and other social purpose activities. Inside NVI, the company shined a light on work done at the group’s Plano, Texas laboratory. The company’s website details the initiative.

On the merchandising side in the stores, sustainable collections have been examined for a while. Megan Molony, NVI’s chief merchandising and managed care officer, told VM, “Social and environmental responsibility are part of National Vision’s DNA. We’ll continue to evolve our product lines to ensure we’re offering environmentally responsible eyewear that also meets our customers’ budgets, vision and fashion needs.

The Green Love frame collection, which launched this year, uses Eastman Acetate Renew.

“This year, we launched our Green Love frame collection, which uses Eastman Acetate Renew. With the Green Love collection, we’re excited to be able to offer frames that showcase groundbreaking carbon renewal technologies and what’s possible as the industry advances in our ability to recycle complex plastic wastes in an impactful way.

 Aaron Schubach.        
Standard Optical, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, has been carrying products made from recycled or upcycled ocean plastics, etc since 2016. Aaron Schubach, CEO of Standard Optical Company, said, “As a part of our house collections we have five lines under the Schubach Originals label. We launched S.O. Green in May of 2021. This product was brought to us by our manufacturing partner in China. The line consists of 18 SKUs made from castor seed oil. This was our first larger scale commitment from an inventory standpoint, to sustainable products and practices.

“Sustainable products is just a part of our overall commitment to being an eco-conscious company with sustainable and ethical practices,” Schubach said. The company currently carries sustainable products from Visual Eyes Eyewear and a new vendor Sea2see, a European company with a very successful ocean cleanup mission and excellent ophthalmic and sunglass designs.

readers should also watch for GOING GREEN, a new twice-a-month e-newsletter debuting this July from Vision Monday, which is going to keep tabs on what optical retailers and ECPs are doing to implement sustainable products and practices into their business and on what the standards, terminology and successful activities can be to make an impact on local, regional, national and global environmental issues.
For several retailers, there is still a way to go as sustainability evolves. Observed Mollie Tavel Kaback, director of growth and community engagement for Dr. Tavel in Indianapolis, Ind., “We’ve dabbled in sustainable frames and contact lens recycling for a couple years. We adopted the B&L contact recycling when they launched it, and we started bringing in Dragon recycled frames in 2020.

“Right now, sustainable eyewear products are not in demand from our customer base. We have yet to receive any requests for recycled or sustainable product, and we haven’t heard any pushback on our current assortment. That said, we recognize that eventually our industry will need to make a concerted effort to go green and once it becomes a focus for our vendors, it will be easier for us to make the change.

“We are already seeing vendors like Marchon, Modo and Tura putting additional focus on sustainable frames and cases. It’s really wonderful to have partners who are making moves in the sustainable space. There is still an upside opportunity to focus our optician training on the importance of sustainability in eyecare, but this hasn’t been a priority narrative for us thus far,” Tavel said.

In contrast, Alfonso Cerullo, president, LensCrafters, pointed out, “Consumers are increasingly asking for products that are aligned with their own personal values, and sustainability is a great example of that. We’re not just talking about Millennials and Gen Z—the desire to ‘do your part’ is woven into the larger consumer mindset. Our associates are always proud to highlight these innovations as another sign that we are a socially conscious business.”

Shopko Optical in Green Bay, Wis. has instituted several sustainability initiatives in their optical centers and labs. “Overall, we have had positive support from our teams and our patients on these initiatives,” said Kirk Lauterback, Shopko’s chief experience officer.

  Editor’s Note
To learn more about the optical industry’s efforts on sustainability look for the story “Sustainability Takes Root” in the May print edition of Vision Monday. The digital edition will be live on on Monday, May 22.

 ECP Viewpoints 

Gina Wesley, OD.

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.”

 Raj Patel, OD.
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," he said.