Dental Tribune Asia Pacific

Part 2: Sustainable dentistry in 500 words or more

By Dr Sanjay Haryana
August 17, 2021

SINGAPORE: Why should dental professionals strive towards sustainable dentistry? Firstly, it is the right thing to do ethically; secondly, it is a great marketing-tool; and finally, it creates an attractive workplace for new colleagues, since research indicates that the younger generation values sustainable workplaces more highly than monetary compensation. Before taking steps towards creating a green dental practice and practising green dentistry, the practitioner should understand that sustainability minimises the pitfalls and simplifies the process. This article will give a brief overview of sustainable development, focusing on Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN).

Modern sustainable development has its origins in 1972, and it has evolved into sophisticated processes and workflows. It is still often associated with the combating of global warming and irresponsible waste management, and rightly so, but the subject is complicated owing to the multiple factors that are interconnected.

Agenda 2030 was accepted by the UN in 2015 and has the aim “to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity”. It can be described by using the five Ps: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. Protect people from poverty and hunger; take steps to protect our planet from degradation and global warming; make sure that we can prosper in symbiosis with our environment; establish peace for mankind; and be able to live without fear and violence. This can only be achieved by the five Ps working together—creating local and global partnerships. Sustainable development is dependent on progress within all the five Ps, since they are all connected. Without partnership, there is no peace; without peace, there is no prosperity; and without a planet, there is no future.

The five Ps are an overview of Agenda 2030, whereas the UN SDGs are a breakdown of Agenda 2030, which is based on the eight millennium development goals (2000-2015) and further divided by the three pillars of sustainability—economic, social, and environmental—into 17 tangible goals and 169 unique actions. These action points provide further guidance for an individual who wants to practise sustainability using the SDGs or for an organisation which has the same aim.

Even though the SDGs provide a structured and focused course of action with clear indicators, it can still be a daunting task to implement them in the day-to-day practice. An alternate way to frame the workflow of the SDGs is the wedding-cake model created by Prof. Johan Rockström and Pavan Sukhdev. This model was aimed at the food industry, and they layer the SDGs into four layers like a wedding cake, using environment (biosphere), society and economy for the first three layers, and finally, adding SDG 17, called “partnerships for the goals”, on top.

Prof. Johan Rockström and Pavan Sukhdev present new way of viewing the Sustainable Development Goals. (Image: Azote Images for Stockholm Resilience Centre/Stockholm University)

The message, in very simple terms, is that we need to attend to all the layers in the wedding cake to succeed, but ultimately, without the environment (biosphere)—our planet—the other layers become redundant.

As dental professionals, we can work in all layers to create a successful sustainable practice. Examples of this are:

  • Environment: SDG 13 relates to “climate action”. Here, Target 13.2 is to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which is closely connected to our day-to-day work. We will discuss this in detail later in the series.
  • Society: SDG 3 relates to “good health and well-being”. Here, Target 3.8 is to battle non-communicable diseases, which in dental medicine, relates primarily to caries and periodontal disease.
  • Economy: SDG 12 relates to “responsible consumption and production”. Here, Target 12.5 is to focus on procurement and waste management such as reduction, reuse and recycling.

These targets are only examples, and it is up to professionals and practices to decide where they can make the greatest impact.

Additionally, we can support organisations that work directly with other actions, like that of providing safe and affordable water for all. This support is an example of SDG 17 “partnerships for the goals”, which is the last layer of the wedding-cake. This is also where dental professionals can make a major impact globally by partnering with sustainable suppliers. In Part 3, sustainable procurement will be discussed in greater detail.

Editorial note: In this six-part series, Dr Sanjay Haryana will give an overview of different aspects of sustainability in dentistry.

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