Vernon Optometry bringing 2020 into focus with green technology

Clinic installed 100 solar panels in fall 2019; will soon be fully carbon neutral

There’s bound to be a lot of jokes about hindsight in 2020, but a Vernon optometry clinic is heading into the new year with its sights firmly set on the future.

Founded in 1946, Vernon Optometry is one of the city’s oldest businesses — and yet, the last few years have seen it become a leader in adopting forward-thinking technology, especially when it comes to clean energy.

Dr. Tanner Udenberg became the clinic owner in 2016 and oversaw the construction of Vernon Optometry’s new location on 39th Avenue.

In planning the new building, he and his business partner, Dr. Meghan Ashton, wanted to go green right from the get-go.

“From the start we were trying to reduce our carbon footprint,” Udenberg said.

Along those lines, the building was equipped with 24 geothermal loops that reach 270 feet into the ground to generate heat for the building.

“We have furnaces here; in three years they’ve never been turned on. I don’t even know if they work,” he laughed.

In October the company installed 100 solar panels on the roof of the building. By mid-December, those panels had saved 465 kilograms worth of CO2 emissions.

“We’ve been told we’re one of the greenest buildings in town, so we’re trying to lead the charge there as well.”

Towards that end, the clinic is in the process of purchasing carbon offsets (credits for carbon reductions made elsewhere) to become fully carbon neutral in 2020.

But perhaps the most innovative aspect of the business has to do with its in-house lens making.

“With things being moved overseas and the onus to be green and local, we wanted to see if we could shake things up and do things our own way,” explained Udenberg.

Most lenses are made by large companies and produced overseas. By crafting their own lenses, Vernon Optometry cuts down on the emissions produced by shipping them in from different continents.

“We don’t have to ship it around the world, we just have to walk it downstairs.”

READ MORE: ‘Job intensive:’ B.C. study says clean energy fast track to employment growth

Making lenses from scratch is no simple operation.

A piece of plastic resembling a hockey puck gets cut and polished, coated in silicon, heated in an infrared oven, spun in an anti-reflective chamber at 36,000 RPM, shot with an electron beam and given an anti-glare coating just one nanometre in thickness.

All that processing generates a lot of heat, which led to another green idea.

Udenberg’s team wanted to see if the heat from their lens-crafting could be tapped into their geothermal loops, and so their engineer got on the phone with the machine manufacturer’s headquarters in Germany.

“They figured out a way to do it,” Udenberg said.

“They told us that worldwide we are the first people to do this, to reclaim energy off of lens production to heat the building.

“Our goal is to get to carbon-neutral lenses.

“We’re pretty close but we’re always trying to get as green as possible.”

Going green has been the main goal from the beginning, but Vernon Optometry has plenty of other tech ideas in the works.

The clinic uses a device called an opticam to precisely measure the dimensions of the faces being fit for frames, and use tablets to allow patients to customize their frames in real time.

Starting in 2020, Vernon Optometry will be one of the first clinics in B.C. to offer 3D-printed frames through a Toronto-based company, and the clinic has also been selected for a new contact lens recycling initiative.

“We just got signed up with Bausch & Lomb, which has a contact lens recycling program, and they’ve selected our office as one of the pilot projects,” Udenberg said.

“So people can bring in contacts and those little inserts they come in, and then we can recycle all of those.”

For Udenberg, who grew up in Vernon and now has two young children, the use of green technology is the pursuit of a future without the sorts of natural calamities the province has seen glimpses of in recent years.

“With all the forest fires and everything, it’s on my mind in the summer. So it’s nice to be able to reduce our carbon footprint, even if it is just a drop in the bucket.”

Udenberg says he’s seen a shift towards greener practices among businesses in recent years, as he believes this to be driven by the younger generations who are becoming more of a market-driving force as they reach their spending years.

“I think companies are starting to realize that people want it — and not only want it; I think the younger generations demand it.”

READ MORE: B.C. examines new directions for renewable electricity projects

Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
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