In honor of Earth Month, we recently sat down with VCA’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs and VCA Charities Board President Kimberly West and Director of Sustainability Larry Cohen, DVM, to talk about VCA’s efforts to support a healthy planet. VCA’s sustainability program is a multi-year process that’s well underway and a part of the Mars Veterinary Health Sustainability Approach. Our focus is across Pet Well-Being, Thriving People and Healthy Planet. Together with our teams, clients and communities, we’re working today to improve tomorrow.

What does sustainability mean for VCA?

Kimberly: So, when we think about how we define sustainability at VCA, it's really about: how do we make this a thriving planet? How do we improve pet well-being? And how do we make sure people are thriving too? Sustainability can be deeply personal to people. For me, I've got two boys, so I want to make sure that I'm doing what I can to leave things in a better place than how we found it. I always encourage folks to think, “How does this affect me? How is this real to me?” And when you step back and look at it from the VCA standpoint, we have a purpose that's about taking care of the future of veterinary medicine. We’ve been deliberate about putting that down on paper. We believe we have a role and a responsibility to do more.

Larry: Well, as Kimberly said, we always think about the environment when we think about sustainability, and I think it's okay to use that term because we want to think about the environment, the planet, and the world. But we also want to think about the work environment for our teams and the environment in which we can connect and treat our patients and pets. So expanding how we think about sustainability is really important. These are our sustainability pillars and we're going to set some goals for ourselves and monitor how we do.

When did VCA begin its sustainability journey?

Larry: VCA has been focused on sustainability since the company started back in the 80s. We’ve always been focused on improving our buildings to be more energy efficient, and we have always been committed to taking care of our staff and providing great care. It was just part of who we are. But 2022 is when we started to put a name to these efforts and began tracking them. Regarding the planet, we’ve been heavily focused on data mining for the past few years to determine our carbon footprint. From what we order and how it gets delivered, how we use and reuse things, to how we recycle or dispose of items. The next phase is all about taking what we’ve learned and figuring out how to do everything in a more sustainable way.

Which metrics matter the most for ensuring the well-being of pets, happy Associates and a thriving planet?

Kimberly: We have an opportunity to extend access to care for pets, particularly for those that are vulnerable, and in communities that may not have access to care. Since 2020, VCA Charities has awarded more than $2.2M and 1,500+ grants to help pets find and remain in loving homes. Our hospital teams play a major part in fundraising and we’re grateful for our very giving clients. These funds have helped pets in need following a disaster and pets whose owners need financial support to get them the care they need. We continue to work to expand our reach and impact.

Larry: I'm very excited about our focus on the environment and waste reduction. We’re working hard to lower our impact on the planet, which is measured in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. I’m also excited about what we’re doing for the mental health and well-being of our Associates, since this is my passion. In the thriving people pillar, we’re a leader in the industry, offering resources to our Associates such as Lyra, which they can access for free mental health services and digital care tools. We have had 8144 Associates register with Lyra since we first launched the service, and that number continues to grow.

How do you scale sustainability across 1,000 hospitals?

Larry: For people and pets, we’re bringing sustainability to life with enhancements to health and well-being benefits available to all Associates, and programs like Hope Funds, which provides financial assistance to clients in need whose pets need care, which is available at all hospitals. For the planet, it’s a bit trickier, especially when you’re asking large numbers of people to change habits. So you do it 10, 20, 50 hospitals at a time. You start with one group, learn from the experience, improve upon it, then roll it out to the next group. I like to say that sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint.

What are some micro actions that hospitals can start doing to begin their sustainability journey for the planet?

Larry: I always encourage our hospitals to do what they can now to recycle, and many already do quite a bit. Since every municipality is different, recycling programs are very difficult to implement from the top down. That said, we’re working closely with a company called Engie that will use data they have collected about VCA operations to create playbooks that will help our hospitals re-examine how we do things and reduce our carbon footprint. Those playbooks will help us take our efforts to the next level.

What does success look like to you?

Kimberly: To me, success means we're future-oriented and we're doing our part. We're taking steps now and thinking about the legacy we want to leave for future generations of pet owners, pets, Associates and so much more. Tomorrow's planet is healthy, people are thriving and we've improved pet wellbeing.

Larry: To me, it’s total engagement. It’s elevating the sustainability conversation to the point that it becomes part of the DNA of every Associate, so that they’re always thinking about it, and it becomes part of their everyday workflow.

You can learn more about VCA Animal Hospital’s contribution to reducing Mars Veterinary Health’s environmental impact in the Mars Net Zero Roadmap.