What is the relationship between the eyecare industry and sustainability?
The eyecare industry is one of the largest in the world, thus it has a huge impact on global sustainability. It is responsible for contributing to unsustainable use of plastic and other materials that cause pollution to our environment. In order to solve this issue, the industry has to find solutions that will improve people's eye health without damaging the environment.
Climate change will affect millions of people’s vision health and access to care
In the coming decades, the way in which the world accesses vision care is predicted to change drastically. Environmental factors like pollution, temperature, UV index, toxins, and chemicals affect eyesight. Overexposure to these factors can lead to blurred vision, watering, burning, and even glaucoma. Since these irritating environmental factors are on the rise, that means the demand for eyecare will also increase. Unfortunately, the demand will be much higher in the global south parts of the world due to uneven distribution of harmful effects of climate change. The global south will be most affected most soon, but the effects of climate change are expected to lead to an increase in the number of people requiring professional intervention for their eye health across the world.
The vision and healthcare industries are major contributors to pollution and waste
There are many facets to vision care, leading to vast ways to measure sustainability practices. Just one way to determine the level of commitment to environmental sustainability from brands is to examine what raw materials are used, and what manufacturing processes are in place to turn them into frames. Across the eyewear industry, plastic is the primary raw material used to create frames. More than half of high-end eyewear is created using what is known as “detractive manufacturing.” In this process, glasses are created by cutting the shape of the frames out of sheets of acetate. This process results in up to 70% of the plastic going to waste. Lens shavings alone create 6,000 tons of plastic waste each year in just the US which ends up in landfills or the ocean. Of course, there are exceptions to the industry norm with some brands turning to more sustainable materials and manufacturing processes..
For example, Blackfin is committed to using the highest quality materials they can source from certified and trusted suppliers. As one of the first producers to specialize in the production of titanium eyewear, they have had years to perfect a balance between quality, design and sustainability. Titanium itself is a far more sustainable material than most of the common materials currently used in the eyewear industry. It is one of the most sustainable metals available. It is resistant to rust and corrosion which allows the product’s lifespan to live longer than many other materials. It is also 100% recyclable. Additionally, Blackfin oversees every step of production in-house in The Black Shelter, its eco- friendly building made from completely plastic-free and 100% recyclable materials. Its energy is sourced from photovoltaic panels and hydroelectricity. Blackfin is one great example of a brand that is not only committed to environmentally-friendly materials but also manufacturing processes.
Why it matters: Consumer insights
Consumers view sustainable products as higher quality
There are many reasons why consumers choose to shop for products with high standards in sustainability. One of the most obvious reasons is that they care for the environment and would like to contribute to a positive change for our climate. The less obvious, but more important reason for consumers is that they tend to view sustainably made products as better quality. Shoppers are more informed these days as they have access to all sorts of information about a company’s ethos, manufacturing, and sourcing at their fingertips. They understand that companies who prioritize sustainability actively work against fast fashion. Consumers want to invest in glasses of high quality, made with sustainable and ethical practices which will last them longer than cheaply made frames.
Younger consumers increasingly look for more sustainable products when shopping
The buying power of Gen Z is growing with each year. By 2030, their influence will surpass that of Millennials. If you want your practice to succeed well into the future it is a good idea to start capturing the hearts and minds of the young adults in your community. The only way to do that is to understand the consumer mindset of that generation. The majority of Gen Z is willing to spend at least 10% more on a product that is made sustainably. More than half of Millennials are also willing to spend more on a sustainably made product. While it is a smart business decision to look towards the future by catering to Gen Z’s demands, sustainability is on the mind of everyone of every age. Regardless of generation, every consumer expects brands to become more sustainable.
How is the vision health industry addressing climate change?
There are sectors of the eyewear industry making earnest efforts to address climate change. High level associations are planning for the future. Brands are making changes to their sourcing, manufacturing, and packaging processes. Eyecare publications are bringing more awareness to the issue. The industry will need to come together to address the massive challenges that climate change presents.
IAPB’s 2030 plan to reach and treat excluded communities
Sustainability is about creating systems that empower communities, economies, and the environment. The International Agency for Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) put together a future-oriented plan to address the increased risk of vision health due to climate change. The IAPB states that 1.1 Billion people currently suffer from some form of vision loss, but that the number is expected to increase to 1.8 Billion by 2050. The plan looks to implement solutions before 2030. The IAPB puts a special focus on addressing the needs of the poorest communities thus empowering them and creating sustainable solutions.
More and more brands are taking on the role as innovators to improve processes with the goal of becoming more sustainable. Brands are reflecting what consumers want by paying more attention to the ethicality of their sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, recycling, and innovation. Consumers are more informed, and want to know more about their products these days. That’s why brands like LOOK include only 100% traceable materials in their glasses. Shoppers love being able to know where their glasses came from, and the level of commitment the brands they support have to ethics and sustainability. Aside from transparency, brands are also improving packaging. Another Villa Eyewear brand, L.G.R, has eliminated all single-use plastic from its standard packaging.
Bringing attention to the issues
Recently, more and more vision and eyecare publications have been drawing attention to the importance of sustainability. Publications like Optometry Today and Vision Monday are writing about sustainability topics in the industry and strategies for going green. Bringing attention to the issue is key for full scale adoption.
How and why should your optical practice go green?
There are so many ways for your practice to adopt more sustainable practices. The best way to think about sustainability is to look at it as a journey, not a destination. There are always more ways to go green. It is an ongoing process.
Avoiding “fast fashion” eyewear brands
We discard 92 million tons of clothes-related waste each year. Fast fashion contributes to more CO2 in the atmosphere than aviation and maritime transportation combined. One of the easiest ways for your practice to become more sustainable and meet the needs of consumer demand is to stop carrying fast fashion eyewear brands. Fast fashion is defined as “inexpensive clothing/accessories produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.” These products are usually created by copying high-end designs and producing them as cheaply as possible to meet demand when it is highest.
Fast fashion is dangerous and unsustainable for many reasons including detrimental effects on the environment and people. Since these products are made as cheaply as possible, with only the profit in mind, the workers creating them are often severely underpaid and work in unsafe conditions. They are also made with extremely cheap, and sometimes even toxic, materials. This leads to the product breaking more quickly and requiring the purchase of more, creating a cycle of unsustainability. There is no sustainable innovation when it comes to sourcing, manufacturing, or packaging.
What to offer in your practice: Eyewear made with sustainable materials, processes, and plans for the future
Aside from being good for the planet, consumers really look for and value sustainability and a commitment to betterment for humanity from the industries they support. It is important for your practice to understand how to cater to the new consumer mindset, especially when it comes to younger generations who value sustainability and ethics even more than older generations. The youth demand that the eyewear industry doits part in going green and contributing to widespread access to eyecare in the face of climate change.
What to look for in sustainable materials
One of the top things consumers look for when evaluating the sustainability of a brand is the materials used in a product. Your practice can look for materials like titanium, which Blackfin uses heavily in all of their products and has quickly become the industry’s expert craftsman of the material. Titanium is easily recycled, ethically sourced, and durable enough that it doesn’t require as many replacements as cheaper and more wasteful materials. If you prefer the look and feel of acetate, there are brands that offer products made of recycled or eco-friendly made materials that resemble acetate, such as UNIQUEDESIGNMILANO (UDM). Whatever your preference, there are options to be more sustainable for every style and aesthetic.
What to look for in sustainable processes
The first thing consumers look at when evaluating the level of commitment a brand has to sustainability is the materials, but the second thing they look at is what processes the brand uses. That means where the glasses are produced. Places like Blackfin’s The Black Shelter are huge selling points for environmentally-minded consumers. It also means packaging, so finding brands that limit plastic, like L.G.R. are also strong factors for sustainability
How to plan for the future
What processes you can adopt in your practice
Aside from carrying sustainable brands, there are other strategies your practice can adopt to become more environmentally-friendly. If you don’t already, you can start recycling. If you already recycle, you can start composting. If you already compost, you can work towards eliminating waste in other ways such as packaging and office materials. You can also consider your digital footprint, and work towards minimizing that. Sustainability is not about reaching a destination, but taking little steps each day to bring your practice closer to being sustainable.
How to make an impact beyond the four walls of your practice
Sustainability is about a lot more than just planting trees and recycling. It's about serving the communities you are connected to with better practices regarding people, planet, and profit. How can your practice show up for your community? Possibilities are endless for ways to make an impact, but here are just a few suggestions:
- Donate glasses to underserved communities
- Take a day for your whole practice to volunteer in your community
- Educate yourself and your clients on sustainable practices and eyewear options
There are these and so many other ways that you can adopt a community-based sustainable mindset within your practice. Bring your whole team together to work towards the goal of better serving your people and planet.
Are you ready to go green at your practice and meet consumer demand for more sustainable products? Contact Villa Eyewear today to learn about the sustainable products our lines carry.