While sustainability in the optical industry continues to make strides, major contact lens companies are doing more than their share in promoting initiatives and keeping an ear tuned to the sustainability requests and concerns of ECPs and consumers alike. Contact lens companies realize just how important it is to have support for these initiatives up and down the line, from their own employees, to ECPs and their patients, and they are developing many of their sustainability initiatives with these thoughts in mind.

Tackling climate change remains a growing priority in contact lens companies’ environmental, social, and government (ESG) initiatives, as well as protecting natural resources. Among the sustainability initiatives taken by Bausch + Lomb, Alcon, CooperVision, and Johnson and Johnson Vision are major recycling efforts for contact lenses, which benefit manufacturers, eyecare professionals and ultimately patients who are buying contact lens products.

Contact lens companies are also taking a closer look at their manufacturing processes to reduce their carbon footprint. And it appears that consumers are sitting up and taking notice of these efforts. A 2024 study by Blue Yonder showed that 47 percent of consumers reported that their interest in shopping sustainably has slightly or greatly increased in the last year.

The survey also demonstrated that consumers were willing to spend more for sustainable products, with 40 percent of respondents saying they would pay up to 5 percent more, and 25 percent saying they would pay an additional 10 percent or more for eco-conscious products.

Alcon Combines Social Impact With Environmental Initiatives
With the goal of improving lives and strengthening communities through innovative eyecare, Alcon has developed a social impact and sustainability strategy platform that contains both specific social impact goals and sustainability goals reaching into 2030.

By 2030, Alcon stated it will become carbon neutral across global operations (Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions) and will divert 100 percent of non-hazardous waste generated at its manufacturing sites and distribution centers from landfill.

On the social impact side, by 2025 Alcon says it will work with its partners through philanthropic support and training programs to help improve vision for 5 million people afflicted with untreated cataracts in low- and middle-income countries, including 1 million people who are considered cataract blind. Also, by 2025, the company is aiming to help improve vision and enhance academic success by providing 150,000 vision screenings to children and ensuring comprehensive care for those in need.

Since 2022, Alcon and Plastic Bank have partnered for clear vision and clean oceans, a partnership that was recently extended to help support sustainability efforts. Last year, Alcon broadened the partnership with Vision Care products to reach more than 90 countries. Thus far, Alcon has helped prevent over 125 million plastic bottles from entering the oceans, streams, rivers and lakes that human and animal life depend on, the company reported. So far, more than 5,000 collectors are improving their financial stability and contributing to a cleaner, clearer world.

According to Alcon, its Global Environmental Sustainability Strategy focuses on four top priorities: sustainable products and services; energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction; operational waste reduction; and water stewardship. Its Environmental Sustainability Scorecard (ESS) allows the company to operationalize sustainable product development. The ESS evaluates new and existing products against sustainability key performance indicators, such as water and energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and waste generated to identify product and process design efficiencies.

In 2022, Alcon set a goal to be carbon neutral for Scope 1 and Scope 2 across its global operations by 2030. The company is working to reduce its Scope 1 and 2 emissions through energy improvement and efficiency projects and procurement of renewable energy.

Alcon reduced its total Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 17 percent in 2022 and also reduced its purchased energy GHG emissions intensity ratio by 27 percent. The company also stated that it has taken the initiative to protect its business from both the physical and transitional risks of climate change.

Alcon evaluates the potential vulnerability of its operations and assets to climate events that are projected to take place through the mid-century under lower-emissions and higher-emissions scenarios, it stated. The company also assesses the potential impact of emerging policy and legal requirements, technology changes and market shifts such as consumer expectations through the mid-century under these same scenarios.

Bausch + Lomb Recycling Programs Reach a Milestone
In April of this year, Bausch + Lomb announced its One by One and Biotrue Eye Care recycling programs had collected 84,343,540 units, or 510,116 pounds, of used contact lenses, eyecare and lens care materials in the U.S. These initiatives have been embraced by eyecare professionals, patients, and consumers alike, according to Amy Butler, vice president, global environment, health, safety and sustainability, Bausch + Lomb.

(L to R) Bausch + Lomb’s Amy Butler; the company’s solar array in Rochester, N.Y.; and its One on One on One recycling program.

“Eyecare practitioners are highly supportive of our sustainability initiatives. Many also appreciate being able to be part of our efforts by serving as official recycling centers of our One by One recycling program—the first and only contact lens recycling program in the United States,” Butler said. “Each recycling center receives complimentary Bausch + Lomb recycling bins that allow their practice to easily collect used contact lenses, blister packs and top foils. The bins serve as a great visual reminder for patients as well.

“We also offer the Biotrue eyecare recycling program, the first and only eyecare and lens care packaging recycling program in the United States. This program properly recycles all brands of eye drop single dose units, lens cases and lens solution caps, as well as all Biotrue-branded eye drop bottles.”

Butler noted that used contact lens, eyecare and lens care packaging materials are typically not properly processed in standard recycling facilities due to the small size and the type of plastic used. As a result, they can end up in landfills or waterways. “All eye health materials collected in our recycling programs are shipped to TerraCycle, where they are processed into pellets and given new life as recycled products,” she said.

According to Butler, consumers are also becoming more aware of the impact their purchasing decisions have on the environment and are seeking more sustainable products with less packaging material.

“To meet these sustainability requests, we continue to implement and improve upon our sustainable practices across our global operations, including reducing waste and conserving natural resources. We also continue to seek ways to develop our products and packaging to be as sustainable as possible. Because the sustainability landscape is dynamic and constantly changing, each of our global operations have annualized sustainability goals that provide us the opportunity to improve and share learnings throughout our Global Product Supply organization.”

The company’s sustainability initiatives are focused on the FEWW metrics—fuel, energy, water and waste. “It’s how we identify upcoming projects, measure our effectiveness and continue to improve year after year,” Butler said.

The company noted that it recently completed the construction of a cryogenic plant for production of high purity nitrogen gas at its contact lens manufacturing facility in Waterford, Ireland. This plant eliminated the need for roughly 50 tanker truck deliveries of nitrogen to the Bausch + Lomb campus each month. That’s roughly 110 tons of CO 2 emissions savings each year.

“Our Waterford facility recently installed a second combined heat and power unit that provides more than 60 percent of the 800,000-square-foot building’s electricity needs and 90 percent of its heating needs,” Butler said. “Our Rochester, N.Y. facility is home to a large solar array, which produces 1.1 gigawatts of energy and eliminates approximately 8,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. Our Aubenas, France facility also has a solar array, which was expanded last year to produce an additional 200-megawatt hours of solar energy—generating about 30 percent of the facility’s total energy needs today.”

Butler concluded, “We are constantly evolving and finding better, more efficient ways to reduce our environmental impact, conserve resources and promote sustainable business practices as part of our comprehensive sustainability program to help build a more sustainable future for generations to come.”

CooperVision Moves Forward With Renewal of Plastic Bank Initiative
In October of last year, CooperVision’s contact lens manufacturing facility in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico was elevated to the prestigious LEED Gold certification. The 540,000-square-foot site—which first earned LEED Silver certification in 2020 for its environmentally conscious design and operation—produces the company’s MyDay and Biofinity brands. It was the second CooperVision manufacturing facility to achieve LEED Gold certification, joining the company’s Costa Rica plant, which earned this recognition in 2022, the company stated.

CooperVision’s Michele Andrews, OD, talks about the company’s net plastic neutrality partnership with Plastic Bank.

“At CooperVision, we are very proud of our leadership in sustainability within the contact lens industry. It is an area in which we have been focused for years, starting with the development of best-in-class facilities and manufacturing processes,” said CooperVision’s Michele Andrews, OD, vice president, professional and government affairs, Americas. “These efforts have resulted in award-winning conservation efforts in Puerto Rico, as well as prestigious sustainability certifications—including LEED and BREEAM—in Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S.

“We began with manufacturing because it was the area in which we could make the greatest impact. However, those efforts tend to be less visible to eyecare professionals and their patients. So, in 2021, CooperVision pioneered the world’s first net plastic neutral contact lens with clariti 1 day in the U.S., allowing ECPs and patients to make a difference just by prescribing and wearing the lens.

“Since then, we have continued to expand the scope of this global initiative, which funds Plastic Bank’s collection, processing, and reuse of general ocean-bound plastic waste that is equal to the weight of plastic contained in designated products in 27 countries around the world. In the U.S., all of our most popular contact lenses are now net plastic neutral, including clariti 1 day, MyDay, MiSight 1 day and Biofinity.”

In April of this year, CooperVision announced the extension of its partnership with Plastic Bank, making CooperVision contact lenses net plastic neutral through 2026.

“To add even more excitement, we have expanded the partnership to include a vision care program to provide vision screenings and vouchers for eye exams and glasses for eligible Plastic Bank collection members in Indonesia, who are absolutely essential to our initiative,” Andrews said. “Now ECPs and wearers alike can feel even better about choosing CooperVision lenses, knowing they are making an even greater impact on both people and the planet.

Andrews said, “What we really love most about the net plastic neutral initiative is that it is so easy for ECPs and their patients to participate. In the first three years of the initiative, thousands of eyecare professionals and millions of wearers have already contributed to the cause, which to date has prevented the equivalent of more than 305 million plastic bottles from entering our world’s oceans. Feedback on the net plastic neutral initiative has been overwhelmingly positive, as it gives practices a great way to connect with and provide more sustainable options to their environmentally conscious patients.”

Andrews noted that in terms of consumer preference for sustainable brands, “everything we have seen continues to trend upward.” She pointed to a 2024 study by Blue Yonder, which showed that 47 percent of consumers reported that their interest in shopping sustainably has slightly or greatly increased in the last year. The survey also demonstrated that consumers were willing to spend more for sustainable products, with 40 percent of respondents saying they would pay up to 5 percent more, and 25 percent saying they would pay an additional 10 percent or more for eco-conscious products.

“CooperVision is committed to making a positive impact on the environment and operating more sustainably because it is the right thing to do—for our employees, customers, our business and the planet. Our approach is evolutionary, so we are always evaluating, looking for additional areas in which we can innovate and improve to make a greater impact today and in the future,” Andrews said.

Johnson & Johnson Vision Focuses on Consumers’ Sustainability Demands
In order to help meet the growing demands of consumers, Johnson & Johnson Vision has focused its environmental sustainability efforts in three areas: climate, waste reduction, and natural resources, according to Lori Tierney, president of the Americas for Johnson & Johnson Vision.

(L to R) J&J Vision’s Lori Tierney; the company’s solar panels at its Jacksonville distribution center; and windmill power at its plant in Ireland.

Tierney stated that there has been a growing awareness of sustainability in recent years across various industries, including the eyecare industry, helping to propel these efforts. “There is a general trend toward increased interest in sustainability and many individuals, whether they are an ophthalmologist or contact lens wearers, are becoming more conscious of the environmental impact of their choices,” she said.

“At Johnson & Johnson, we’re committed to creating a healthier world. We’re passionate about creating a sustainable future and recognize our responsibility to help protect the planet. This means finding sustainable solutions to existing challenges, as well as tackling key issues that affect us all.

“Our sustainability efforts are focused in three key areas: limiting our use of natural resources and finding solutions to protect the environment; reducing our carbon footprint and increasing the use of renewable energy; and reducing waste, optimizing our packaging, and helping our customers and patients recycle more.”

Over the past 10 years, J&J has significantly reduced the carbon footprint and is on track to help the Vision business of Johnson & Johnson meet its carbon neutrality goal by 2030, according to Tierney. Additionally, as of 2022, all Acuvue contact lenses are made using 100 percent renewable energy, helping the business achieve its global climate goal of sourcing 100 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources three years early.

Tierney said, “As a health care company in J&J, we recognize that environmental health impacts human health, and we have been setting public environmental performance goals for nearly 30 years. Our climate goals include transitioning to 100 percent renewable electricity and reducing carbon emissions in our global operations while also engaging our suppliers to reduce upstream value chain emissions.

“To reach our goals we will continue to advance energy and process efficiencies and increase our use of renewable electricity within our global operations while also engaging key suppliers to develop decarbonization strategies and set science-based goals. We are committed to advancing sustainable products and packaging and introducing more circular solutions within our business sectors.”

Having ECPs, providers, and employees all buying into the company’s sustainability initiatives is critical to achieving these goals, Tierney noted.

“Our eyecare professionals, providers and employees engage in these important initiatives and believe in our mantra that it takes a healthy planet to have healthy people and communities. We have seen an increased interest and active involvement in the younger generations of surgeons, as well as continued encouragement and support from our tenured providers.

“As a global manufacturer, we recognize our responsibility to help protect the planet. From finding sustainable solutions to existing challenges, to tackling key issues that affect us all—we’re passionate about creating a more sustainable future.”