Auxiliary means industry: sustainable production, work and life
Auxiliary means industry: sustainable production, work and life
The term "sustainability" has been on everyone's lips for some years now. Supermarkets advertise sustainable products, exchange platforms emphasize the sustainability of second-hand clothing, and disposable diapers are frowned upon by many young parents because of the mountains of trash they generate. But what is the actual situation in the medical and auxiliary means industry? Can sustainability succeed in an industry that includes disposable products such as catheters, ostomy bags and incontinence pads?
Sustainability should also be considered in the manufacture of auxiliary means. Often, more is possible than it seems at first glance.
First of all, it must be stated that users can hardly decide for themselves whether a required aid, if it is a medical device for example, is sustainable or at least has been produced sustainably. Depending on the service provider, various products are offered, but there is generally no choice of the kind found in drugstores, for example. Exceptions may be possible if one is willing to pay a surcharge out of one's own pocket. This is conceivable for hearing aids, for example, if you opt for rechargeable battery-operated devices. As a rule, however, these are not (yet) models that are covered by the health insurance system. So, there is little that can be done from the user side to make the industry more sustainable.
But there are more and more companies that are committed to more sustainability in the process and for the product, if this is possible. The company Etac produces wheelchairs and recently joined forces with Medux in the Netherlands to introduce the first entirely sustainable wheelchair, the Etac Cross re:vive. Marika Törnqvist, Head of Product Management at Etac, explains how the project came about: „Etac has a strong interest in sustainability and during the development of our latest wheelchair model Etac Cross 6, we focused on ensuring the right design and parts for a potential future remanufacturing process. During the same time frame, the Dutch dealer Medux evaluated their wheelchair fleet with regards to service costs during the products’ lifetime, and Etac Cross stood out positively. This led to a mutual pilot project focusing on using Medux’s fleet of Etac Cross wheelchairs to explore remanufacturing. And now a few years later the first circular wheelchair in the European market is launched. The Etac Cross re:vive model promotes sustainability by reviving used wheelchairs that normally would have been scrapped while still ensuring the same technical lifetime as a new wheelchair. The wheelchair model is thus technically as competitive as a new product, but with less consumption of new material. As Etac Cross re:vive is based on reused wheelchairs, the product will have signs of its earlier life and the model relies on a commitment from the customer to return used products”.
In this context, Törnqvist emphasizes that sustainability should be fundamentally anchored in the company's consciousness: „Sustainability starts with the right mindset. From a circular perspective every manufactured product is seen as an investment. We invest in materials and processes to create a value for the customer, and we should strive to maximize the use of the value created to safeguard our planet and resources. In short; we need to scrap less and consciously use resources to produce long-lasting quality products“. The company explains how Etac goes about this on its homepage.
Etac has launched the Etac Cross re:vive sustainably produced wheelchair, the first of its kind on the European market.
Sustainability should apply to all areas of a company
Now a wheelchair or other tangible products are something where concrete consideration can be given to which materials can be reused or replaced. Are companies with non-tangible products, such as software or services, therefore exempt from sustainability considerations, or do they want to be? In any case, long-time REHACARE exhibitor opta data, which offers a billing service, is no exception. The German family-owned company is active in various projects to become more sustainable. Emily Benecke, Corporate Communications Manager at opta data: "First and foremost, we live the topic of sustainability on a holistic level in the sense of a family business. That means we look at the social and ecological aspects in particular. Thus, as a family business, we support numerous institutions, associations or organizations every year in the form of donations and sponsoring. Likewise, the well-being of our team is very important to us. We respect and protect the physical and mental health of our colleagues by working intensively with various health management players so that we can guarantee this and offer our employees numerous campaigns, courses, examinations to promote health. Furthermore, as part of our ecological strategy, we have launched a project with the help of our partner Green Solutions, with which we actively compensate for emissions. This is a tree planting project in which more than 2,200 deciduous trees were planted in a forest area in Essen, Germany in March 2022. Converted, opta data's planting campaign will compensate for an average of around 20 tons of CO2 per year".
The company's efforts in the work area are thus already well advanced. But can a company be sustainable if its products are not? Benecke says yes, because: "We are constantly working on optimizing our products, services and processes and making life easier for our customers. One example is that we are actively promoting the telematics infrastructure. Not only doctors, clinics and pharmacies should be able to be part of digitization, but also all other healthcare providers. How can this be achieved? The answer lies in interoperability, the meaningful networking between different computer systems. This is what the telematics infrastructure (TI) does. What sounds cumbersome at first offers considerable benefits to the entire sector and to patients, because the TI connects all sectors and areas of the healthcare system with each other. It serves as a kind of high-speed highway that connects doctors, clinics, pharmacies, and all service providers such as nursing homes, providers of medical and therapeutic aids, and midwives, and ensures the fast, secure exchange of highly sensitive data".
Better communication therefore leads to more time saved and optimized work processes. This, too, can contribute to greater sustainability. And it shows: there are many ways for companies to do something good for people and the environment. Whether it's a single product that is improved, or production cycles, or planting trees to offset emissions – as always, you just have to want to, and every step, no matter how small, is right and important.