This story is brought to you by the City of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development.
As a young girl growing up in India, Dr. Ruhi Sangha was taught that everything material that came into her life was precious and that nothing — nothing — should go to waste. “We were always told, ‘Don’t waste, don’t waste.’ Even if it was one bite of food left on a plate, it was ‘don’t waste.’”
So it was fitting that when she and Dr. Praj Kamat took over the Transcendentist dental practice on Ashby Avenue in 2017, it was a green-certified business. The two doctors, both raised in India with the same no-waste, eco-conscious ethos, wanted to carry on the environmental legacy of former owner, Dr. Fred Pockrass. In 2003, Dr. Pockrass’ practice became the first dental office to gain certification as a green business through the Alameda County Green Business Program, which operates under the umbrella of the California Green Business Network.
But time can make a big difference in green-business standards and new owners are under no obligation to recertify a business to stay green. Dr. Sangha and Dr. Kamat, however, wanted to be the greenest they could be. “Both of us were shocked by how much waste there could be in dentistry,” Dr. Sangha said. “We wanted to change that.”
And what better place than Berkeley. “It’s such an eco-conscious city,” Dr. Sangha said. “It’s one of the reasons we wanted our office to be in Berkeley.” In fact, with more than 130 certified green businesses, Berkeley is proud to have more green businesses than any other city in Alameda County aside from Oakland, which has many more businesses overall.
Dr. Sangha and Dr. Kamat immediately began the process of recertifying the practice through the Green Business Program. After a year of examining all their products and protocols and making updates, they received their recertification in 2018.
Indeed, their commitment meant a top-to-bottom assessment of resources used, resources wasted, and inefficient practices. Some changes were easy: opting for recycled wood furniture in the office space; using LED lightbulbs; providing ceramic mugs or glasses instead of paper disposables.
Shifting their back-office and record-keeping procedures from paper-based practices also was straightforward: patients make appointments online, for example, and cloud-based options for matters like consent forms and digital impressions have eliminated slower and more expensive shipping and storing routines.
But other areas of the practice were more difficult to work out, primarily because the use of disposables is so ingrained in the dental industry. Think bibs, headrest covers, neck pillow covers, hand-drying towels, and patient giveaways. “Unfortunately, disposables and paper are standard among dental suppliers,” Dr. Sangha said. “It’s simply not easy for people to access green supplies. Now we know what to do, but at the time we had to basically invent our own supply chain.”
Moving from disposables to reusables also meant installing specialized steam autoclaves for equipment sterilization and high-efficiency washing machines for all the laundry, as well as using eco-certified detergent. It meant a higher initial outlay than just setting up multiple trash bins, and a lot more laundry for the staff.
“We do a lot of laundry,” Dr. Sangha acknowledged. “But we’re happy to do it.”
They also had to make sure that green practices wouldn’t violate or fall short of any safety guidelines set out by the American Dental Association, OSHA, and local dental associations. “We only use products that are B-Corps certified or approved by Eco-Dentistry Association,” Dr. Sangha said.
Savings have always been one of the vaunted perks of greening a business and for Transcendentist, it’s been great to see the savings quantified. According to the program’s Green Biz Tracker app, the office saves about $1,000 a year from reducing their energy consumption, $800 a year from solid waste diverted, and $135 a year from their reduced water use.
There are also savings that aren’t officially tracked but which the doctors know have made a big difference over time. “I don’t know the exact amounts, but I know we also save on things like printers and cartridges and then, long-term, space to store all that paper,” Dr. Sangha said. “We would do this even if it cost us more.”
“This is Berkeley, people care about the environment and want a more natural, ecological approach to their healthcare. They want healthcare that fits with their beliefs. And this is in harmony with our philosophy.”
And that philosophy doesn’t mean giving up any creature comforts. Quite the opposite: patients wait in a comfy, homey waiting room, enjoy coffee out of a real mug, get settled in with heated blankets and can avoid shrill drilling sounds with noise-canceling headphones. “We call our office the dental spa,” Dr. Sangha said. “I know it sounds unbelievable, but people like being here.”