Dr. Marc Wawerla, Stephan Hund, Joachim Kuss
Green, Safe, Responsible
Sustainability in Eyeglass Lens Production
Climate change, plastic polluting the oceans, environmental and species conservation, responsible consumption ... Whether as consumers, companies or organizations, we are increasingly being asked to carefully consider our resource consumption and ecological footprint. What does this look like in the eye care industry? How do we respond when patients and eyeglass wearers ask where and how lenses and frames are manufactured? Taking a look at the production of prescription and stock eyeglass lenses at ZEISS demonstrates what is already possible right now and what the future will hold.
Aalen, Germany | 3 June 2019 | ZEISS Vision Care
It goes without saying that legal provisions and compliance rules are observed. Issues widely discussed in public discourse like child labor, particulates and carcinogenic substances play no role in lens production. Nevertheless, eye care companies must be ready to address the overall ecobalance and assume responsibility for our shared future.
Millions of lenses are being produced, ranging from stock and sunglass lenses to individualized prescription lenses. Not surprisingly, the resulting material, energy and water usage has a significant impact on the lenses' ecobalance. With millions of lenses leaving the production sites in America, Asia and Europe, even just a few grams per lens quickly add up.
With the launch of freeform technology back in 2000, eyeglass lens manufacturing took a big leap forward thanks to fundamentally new innovations – a transformation comparable to moving from the combustion engine to the electric motor. For example: processing times for grinding and generating the lens dropped from 30 minutes to a little over one-and-a-half minutes. Using substantially less water for grinding and polishing has led to significantly lower energy and water consumption. Anyone who has seen a traditional spindle and a modern freeform cell has a very clear idea of just how much things have changed. Now, the primary goal is to fully leverage the potential for greener and safer practices in lens manufacture – not by taking another major leap forward, but through many smaller steps that, collectively, enable substantial progress.
Progress through many small and big steps
At ZEISS Vision Care, more than 240 initiatives at all sites worldwide have been bundled together under the slogan "Green, Safe, Responsible" to promote greener production and logistics. Greater safety means improved occupational health, i.e. by further reducing any potentially hazardous chemicals or designing the workstations accordingly. As a foundation company, "responsibility" has played a special role throughout ZEISS' 125-year history. Customers, patients and partners ask us time and time again – with good reason – how all of the company's employees actually put this responsibility into practice.
ZEISS counts on the collective impact of many small and big steps. For example, the new standardized packaging for semi-finished lenses has saved 68 tons of paper annually since 2018. That's the equivalent of cutting down 1,600 trees. And, as a positive side effect, the company needs 2.1 tons less dye since it is no longer needed to print the packaging. Together with suppliers from industry, ZEISS is working on significantly improving the ecobalance of its packaging in the future as well.
Getting rid of the standard plastic cups designed to protect the semi-finished lenses has contributed to ZEISS Vision Care's efforts to be even greener by saving 260 tons of plastic. This is the equivalent of 13 million plastic bags, which would have required 650,000 liters of petroleum for production. Water is primarily needed for cooling and cleaning during the manufacturing process. Water treatment – cleaning, filtering out plastic remnants and microparticles, neutralizing cleaning water – is standard in modern lens production. But process improvements have made it possible to conserve water: in 2018, we saved 292 tons of water – that is enough drinking water for a quarter of a million people.
More sea freight instead of air cargo, the inclusion of sustainability topics in contracts with suppliers, "dry" grinding ... there is no shortage of ideas and concrete projects for the months ahead. This is another instance where teamwork has proved essential and effective.
The use of plastics was and remains a challenge for the environmentally conscious production of plastic lenses. Semi-finished lenses used to be comparatively thick, which meant more monomers were needed. ZEISS' redesigned semi-finished lenses are much thinner and often only weigh half as much, significantly reducing the amount of plastic required for each lens. A change like this requires the involvement of optical designers, technology and manufacturing specialists, IT, logistics personnel and other experts to enable the implementation within a complex production network without any disruptions for customers.
Moreover, it is possible to reuse the plastic left over after shaping the lens. Polycarbonate can be melted down and used for cast parts, whereas the granules of materials that cannot be melted down are employed in other industries.
Ernst Abbe's legacy
All initiatives at ZEISS Vision Care directly involve hundreds of employees. Ultimately, they enable Vision Care to do its part to help the ZEISS Group's reach its ambitious sustainability goals. The specific reduction targets to be achieved by fiscal year 2019/20 are clearly defined: a 50 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and energy consumption, a 40 percent reduction in water consumption and a 30 percent reduction in waste accumulation relative to the company's own value added. The reference year for all three targets is fiscal year 2009/10.
Climate change, the plastic polluting the world's oceans, environmental and species protection, a commitment to responsible consumption and securing jobs and supply chains – with "Green, Safe, Responsible," ZEISS Vision Care is successfully working on demonstrating corporate responsibility day after day. The goals of the Carl Zeiss Foundation, founded by Ernst Abbe in 1889 and still the sole owner of Carl Zeiss AG and SCHOTT AG, are reflected directly in the individual strategic business units at ZEISS.
Sustainable social commitment
Social engagement has been part of Ernst Abbe's living legacy for over 125 years. Today, one of the most pressing social challenges facing the eye care industry is the fact that millions of people in developing and emerging economies do not have access to eye and vision care.
ZEISS Vision Care is pursuing different approaches to improve the availability of eye care throughout the world and supports major initiatives like the Christoffel Mission for the Blind, Helen Keller International, Optometry Giving Sight and the Free Lunch Fund along with local projects. With the Aloka Vision Programme, ZEISS has set up a program for eye and vision care in rural India. Each month, up to 8,000 people have their vision checked for the first time and, if needed, receive eyeglasses or ophthalmic care. The social business model developed together with local and regional NGOs and foundations as well as small business owners makes it possible for a small, four-person team of optometrists to have a major impact and continue to reach thousands of patients.
Here, sustainability means tackling the causes that limit the availability of eye care. This includes setting up local structures for basic treatment, training and education along with the establishment of business models that will enable our partners to generate stable revenues. However, even initiatives like the Aloka Vision Programme do not reach all the target groups. For disadvantaged children like orphans, kids from the slums or the children of migrant workers, free eye care is the most important means to achieve reach. Working together with the charity Miracle of Sight, ZEISS employees get directly involved, collect donations and organize programs that help make good vision available to everyone.
Are eyeglass lenses vegan?
Admittedly, not many people ask this question. (And yes, they are.) But it is only a matter of time until environmental and social awareness more frequently become a factor customers consider before purchasing a pair of glasses. Frames made from recycled plastic or biodegradable organic materials such as wood are gaining in popularity. And, just like for any other company, social engagement and sustainability not only sound nice for instrument and lens producers but are part of their corporate strategy.
For example, eye care professionals and experts working in optometry and ophthalmology support eye care in underserved regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Every year, thousands of people benefit from their involvement.
It is time to more proactively communicate the industry's wide-ranging commitment. This will encourage anyone championing green, reliable and responsible eye care, serve as an answer the increasing number of questions from customers, partners and talents concerning the particular commitment to the future, and ultimately prove an indispensable criterion for consumers who value responsible providers when purchasing glasses.
Dr. Marc Wawerla is COO of ZEISS Vision Care, where he oversees global production and heads the "Green, Safe, Responsible" steering committee.
Stephan Hund is Head of Quality Management and coordinates the global sustainability initiatives at ZEISS Vision Care.
Joachim Kuss is responsible for company communications for the ZEISS Consumer Markets segment and has played an active role in setting up the Aloka Vision Programme from day one.
The current Sustainability Report for the ZEISS Group and the audited Non-Financial Report for 2017/18 can be found at http://www.zeiss.com/responsibility.
ZEISS is an internationally leading technology enterprise operating in the fields of optics and optoelectronics. In the previous fiscal year, the ZEISS Group generated annual revenue totaling more than 5.8 billion euros in its four segments Industrial Quality & Research, Medical Technology, Consumer Markets and Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology (status: 30 September 2018).
For its customers, ZEISS develops, produces and distributes highly innovative solutions for industrial metrology and quality assurance, microscopy solutions for the life sciences and materials research, and medical technology solutions for diagnostics and treatment in ophthalmology and microsurgery. The name ZEISS is also synonymous with the world's leading lithography optics, which are used by the chip industry to manufacture semiconductor components. There is global demand for trendsetting ZEISS brand products such as eyeglass lenses, camera lenses and binoculars.
With a portfolio aligned with future growth areas like digitalization, healthcare and Smart Production and a strong brand, ZEISS is shaping the future far beyond the optics and optoelectronics industries. The company's significant, sustainable investments in research and development lay the foundation for the success and continued expansion of ZEISS' technology and market leadership.
With around 30,000 employees, ZEISS is represented in nearly 50 countries, with approximately 60 of its own sales and service companies and 30 manufacturing and development centers around the globe. Founded in 1846 in Jena, the company is headquartered in Oberkochen, Germany. The Carl Zeiss Foundation, one of the largest foundations in Germany committed to the promotion of science, is the sole owner of the holding company, Carl Zeiss AG.
For more information, please visit www.zeiss.com
ZEISS Vision Care
ZEISS Vision Care is one of the world's leading manufacturers of eyeglass lenses and ophthalmic instruments. The area is part of the Consumer Markets segment and develops and produces offerings for the entire eyeglass value chain that are distributed globally under the ZEISS brand.