Environmentally Friendly Initiatives: Can We Be Greener?

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How your practice can undertake a larger role in caring for the environment

By Alicia Backer, PTA

In desperate pursuit to find ways to better care for our beautiful environment and its sustainability, we must consider how to personally contribute.

Hot topics of global warming and the negative impacts this will have on earth and those that occupy it creates serious concern worldwide. It is our call to action and professional responsibility to promote sustainability development in our own daily practices. The policies and bylaws of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) support environmentally responsible practices by stating that we shall commit to, environmental stewardship, environmental sustainability, and enhanced public awareness of the effect of the environment on human movement, health, and safety.1

Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. As physical therapists, our expertise in promoting physical activity while also empowering self-care and healthy lifestyles, lends us the opportunity to be at the forefront of these issues. Furthermore, we play an important role through providing non-pharmaceutical treatment options and empower behavioral changes that will in turn yield positive effects on both personal and environmental health which will also significantly reduce the environmental burden of healthcare.

Our own physical health and wellness are critical factors in the health of our earth. Better health allows us to be active and reduces physical decline as we age. Better health reduces probability and severity of chronic disease which results in a lengthy list of benefits. Fewer doctor appointments and hospital admissions, fewer procedures and testing, and decreased pharmaceutical use result in dramatically reduced fuel emissions, electricity use, and product waste (Figure 1).2

model for casual relationships between the health sector

The results of our actions may not be immediately recognized, but our future will be better because of it. The quality of this planet’s future depends on any changes we make now — big or small. Purposeful change to make small strides toward an eco-friendlier practice is easy and requires only a little bit of effort. Larger impacts can be more time-consuming and may create some higher upfront expenses, but the result will be worth it. Get started with some quick fix ideas or elevate your contribution by taking your efforts to the next level. I hope that we as a profession will embrace a culture of environmental sustainability and put forth best practices to foster a better life for future generations and contribute to a transition toward a more sustainable health sector.


Eliminate single-use plastics and recycle

Use compostable or biodegradable options for break rooms or coffee bars. There are tons of options for single-use utensils, plates, and cups. When going fully “green” may not be possible, use clinic recycling to reduce waste.

Ditch cloth and paper pillow covers

Reduce the never-ending cycle of washing, drying, and folding with antimicrobial vinyl pillow covers that can be quickly and easily wiped clean.

Rethink your lighting

Utilize natural light sources as much as possible which not only saves money but also boosts your vitamin D levels. Energy-efficient lightbulbs are cost-saving, last longer, and use 70%-90% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

Reconsider marketing

Choose eco-friendly materials like digital vs print. Honestly, when is the last time you saved a flyer or brochure? Prioritize text reminders instead of appointment cards and carefully consider marketing giveaways. Glass coffee mugs or pint glasses instead of plastic cups would be a much better and memorable option.

Get technical

Prioritize telehealth in your clinic, when possible, to reduce harmful fuel emissions. Consider going completely paperless by having clients use a kiosk for completing patient paperwork and eliminating hard fax lines by using an EMR with electronic faxing.


Promote community wellness

Collaborate with a local radio station to share weekly wellness tips on a live broadcast. Host a wellness event such as a 5k or scavenger hunt to promote physical activity while enjoying the outdoors. Partner with a local gym or fitness group to provide opportunities by offering a complimentary trial for a gym membership or fitness classes when patients transition from physical therapy services to independent exercise.

Join a research group

Team up with other physical therapists to commence work for identifying and evaluating measures of sustainability relevant to our profession while including a perspective of sustainable development in research. 


1APTA. “Support of Environmentally Responsible Practice.” Published August 20, 2022. https://www.apta.org/apta-and-you/leadership-and-governance/policies/support-of-environmentally-responsible-practice.

2Palstam A, Andersson M, Lange E, Grenholm A. “A call to include a perspective of sustainable development in physical therapy research.” Phys Ther. 2021;101(3). doi:10.1093/ptj/pzaa228

Alicia Backer, PTA
Alicia Backer, PTA, is owner and physical therapist assistant at North Born Physical Therapy in Thief River Falls, MN. She is a member of PPS and the Impact Editorial Board and can be reached at aliciabacker2323@gmail.com and on Twitter @AliciaBacker.

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