Eyes On Sustainability: Views on sustainability

Mike Hale speaks to four industry professionals about the actions their companies are taking on sustainability, advice for eye care professionals, and where the industry goes from here

Clockwise from top left: Dale Hughes, Lil Creighton-Sims, Heath Clash and James Conway


James Conway: CEO at Millmead Optical

Millmead Optical, which manufactures ophthalmic lenses, eyewear, and cases, received B Corp certification in November 2023, designating it as a business meeting high standards in sustainability and social responsibility.

Under Conway’s stewardship, the company has made sustainability gains through LED lighting, a paper and cardboard recycling programme, investment in dry cut MEI machines for lens glazing, and supplying frames and cases made from recycled material to name but a few.

‘Sustainability is a journey,’ says Conway. ‘Five or six years ago, I tended to think that sustainability was something you work through and complete. Now I understand that it is more of an attitude and, as you make changes for the better, you find more and more ways to further improve.

'Lens waste is one of the toughest problems in optics. We are looking at solutions for the lens waste that we generate and to take waste from other people too. We have a special kind of closed loop recycling programme in development and hopefully by the middle of next year we will have some really good news for everybody.’

Asked what practices can do better in terms of sustainability, Conway identifies choosing sustainable suppliers as key. ‘A lot of the things we have done like LED lighting and recycling can be done at a practice level,’ says Conway. ‘Practice managers need to follow good sustainability principles but, in all honesty, the real environmental damage of optics is done on the supply side rather than in retail.’

Conway feels that sustainability will continue to grow in importance over the coming year. ‘Unfortunately, there are some tragic things going on in the world at the moment, but the climate issue is going to keep coming back to the top of the agenda,’ he says. I have three young kids and think a lot about what the world is going to be like in 30 years.

'We all have a responsibility to be involved in this and more and more people are accepting their part. Recycling everything possible is going to become a normal part of life and I guess there will be a time where using new plastic will be a tiny part of the market reserved for essential technical uses. That might be 20 years off, but sustainability is here to stay.’


Heath Clash: Head of communications – EMEA at CooperVision

Contact lens manufacturer CooperVision has taken up the sustainability baton and implemented a host of positive actions with more planned. ‘We are working to minimise our environmental impact and operate more sustainably because it is the right thing to do—for our employees, our customers, our business, and our planet,’ says Clash.

‘From production improvements designed to conserve water to efforts that recycle nearly 100% of the plastics used in production, CooperVision is prioritising environmentally responsible practices across four key areas: water, energy, recycling, and people.’

Clash gives highlights of the company’s actions across the four areas. ‘By continually reducing our overall usage, increasing reuse and recycling efforts, and making better use of collected rainwater, we conserve millions of litres of water each year.

For energy, we have converted all our operations in Rochester, US to 100% wind-based renewable electricity, in addition to powering a UK facility using 100% renewable electricity from biomass. On average, more than 95% of the materials in our production processes are recycled and 70% of our employees at both our Costa Rica and Hungary sites participate in mass transportation.’

Clash encourages optical practices to look for every opportunity to make a difference and talk to suppliers about their initiatives. ‘Specifically on the subject of contact lenses, we would encourage practices to join us in our plastic neutral efforts,’ says Clash.

‘As all CooperVision one-day contact lens brands in the UK and Ireland are plastic neutral via our offsetting partnership with Plastic Bank, all eye care professionals have to do is recommend one of these brands to their patients and they will be prescribing plastic neutral.’

Asked about the future of sustainability in optics, Clash emphasises the importance of acting now. ‘The planet is facing numerous environmental challenges, and this is why it has become ever-more important for consumers and society in general,’ says Clash.

‘So now is the time to act. We believe it is important to push the boundaries of what is possible and work with partners who share our impatience for positive impact – doing what we can today to create a better tomorrow.’


Lil Creighton-Simms - UK manager at IOT Lenses

As a cutting-edge ophthalmic lens technology company, IOT is well placed to identify challenges and solutions relating to sustainability in lens production.

‘The challenges to become sustainable in ophthalmic lens manufacturing are extremely complex,’ says Creighton-Sims. ‘Our research team is working on ground-breaking methods to improve sustainability in production. The most urgent problem is waste in the production process, specifically the volume of swarf created when a lens is generated and edged.

'Swarf describes the tiny shavings of plastic created when a lens is manufactured and poses a real challenge to the industry in its drive to become more environmentally friendly. While striving for a circular economy, re-using or recycling a material requires it to be in its pure form; if the swarf only consisted of shavings of one material with no other contaminants, then this would be simple.

'Unfortunately, swarf is contaminated by mixed indices, water, coolant, or leftover material polishing solvents; separating it is not easy. It is possible to remove most contaminants, yet we are not quite where we need to be to be fully sustainable in this area.’

Creighton-Sims advises eye care professionals to pay careful attention to frame selection and centration. ‘This dictates the blank size, particularly in higher powers where it can be difficult to source semi-finished blanks with adequate thickness,’ she says.

‘If there is a large amount of decentration required, or if the index required does not have the necessary thickness to cut the curve, then a very large, thick blank will be needed; this means more cuts are required resulting in more swarf and higher energy costs.

'My advice, for any mid to high powered prescription that requires more than 2mm of decentration, or for any very high powered 1.74 order, is to call the lab first to see how else you can reduce the thickness with consideration of the semi-finished product.’

Creighton-Sims feels the current move to sustainability will continue being driven by ‘large companies who are using their buying power to convince potential partners to support sustainable practices’ while calling for new smaller companies to enter the market with solutions to make lens production fully sustainable in terms of materials and recycling in the future.


Dale Hughes: Marketing manager at Hoya Lens UK

Lens company Hoya is embracing sustainability at an international and UK level with actions to improve aspects of the business including energy conservation, water use and recycling.

‘Obviously there is a big challenge with sustainability and ophthalmic lenses in that we are dealing with thermoset plastics,’ says Hughes. ‘Clearly technology to better recycle these is paramount. Our quality health safety and environment manager, Anna Williams, is currently heading up a project with Andrew Clark at Net Zero Optics, on reducing our carbon footprint.

'We are working our way through that. The main challenge is getting the relevant information from potential partners – the people who we use for deliveries and other services.’

Given the scale of the climate crisis, Hughes is strongly of the opinion that that solutions will need collaboration across the industry. ‘We need the whole supply chain and industry coming together really. The challenge of sustainability is massive and we need to really make an impact.

'We have got to do it together; we cannot do it in isolation. We are doing some detailed analysis on what we do as a business from a sustainability perspective but what we do is only a small link in the chain really.’

What can eye care professionals do to improve sustainability within their practices? ‘It is important to pick suppliers who act ethically,’ says Hughes. ‘Sustainability is not just about the environment; it is also about the wellbeing of staff. It is about how people throughout the chain are treated, where products are made. Corporate social responsibility needs to be considered.’

Looking ahead, Hughes feels that the steps Hoya has taken to date are just the beginning. ‘Sustainability is only going to grow in importance as time goes by and people from younger demographics come of age,’ says Hughes.

‘I think consumers will be more demanding of the companies they deal with in terms of numerical evidence of sustainable methods. I also think as the climate situation becomes more intense, greater effort in terms of legislation from governments is inevitable. We have achieved some good things in the past few years, and we are on our way, but it is an early phase of a long journey.’