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The Green Discussion Forum

In 2020, we decided that the theme for our year would be regenerating the veterinary world. I had been running The Webinar Vet for a decade and begun the online revolution for vets, which had taken millions of miles off the roads over the last decade. However, we wanted to do more to show leadership in the veterinary industry. As a digital educational business, it is arguably simpler to be sustainable than a large pharma company. However, we calculated our carbon footprint; offset double what we produced during the pandemic year; started a veterinary sustainability podcast, and planted a wildflower meadow at the Liverpool Science Park along with encouraging our landlord to embrace renewable energy providers.

Part of beginning a sustainability journey is that the further you get down the road, the more you realise more can still be done. Many larger companies have not yet started, because they don’t know how to start. Small steps are enough at the start to build the company owner’s confidence. Part of this year’s journey was to try to facilitate bringing the veterinary industry together to see how we can collaboratively move faster into a more sustainable future. I was at COP26 and I realised how government, industry and individuals need to work closely together to achieve the environmental targets that have been set for this decisive decade. Carbon seems to be the main focus that everyone concentrates on but it is not very holistic. When I decided to organise the forum, I wanted to look at resource use and biodiversity as well as climate change and carbon. It’s very hard to get a lot of big companies in the room initially. Companies want to know who else is turning up and, inevitably, there is some distrust in being too open in sharing where they are in their sustainability journey. From the start of the process, I made it clear that this would be a safe place to discuss topics and that Chatham House rules would apply. Sustainability and regeneration are such big topics and companies are learning as they go. Every company that is taking these topics seriously has strengths and weaknesses in its approaches and I believe we will learn quicker if we work together. Collegiality and collaboration are more important than competing against each other in the environmental arena. This was the background that led me, as a vet in an independent business, to start bringing companies in the veterinary space together to collaborate in this essential area of veterinary regeneration and sustainability. This journey will not be finished next year. It is a long journey, but one with a clear goal of reducing carbon production by 50%; creating a more circular, less wasteful economy, and having 30% of the land of high biodiverse value by 2030 (30 by 30). The Webinar Vet opened for business 12 years ago and is well-trusted in the industry. It is set apart from the pharmaceutical, feed, and corporate veterinary practice groups and can, hopefully, act as a facilitator. It’s possible that an association can also take this role. At the inaugural forum, we were incredibly fortunate to have our regulator, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, present as well as the British Veterinary Association, The British Small Animal Veterinary Association, The British Cattle Veterinary Association, and VetSustain. This, obviously, enhanced the credibility of the forum. The Webinar Vet has never held a physical conference. Indeed, during the pandemic, we helped over 50 associations and companies take their events online due to our decade-long experience of running online events. However, we decided that a green discussion forum had to take place at a physical venue and so we decided to hold it at Brockholes Nature Reserve just outside Preston. Holding it at a nature reserve would help to ground us and show clearly how protecting the environment was essential. The centre at Brockholes is an architectural masterpiece designed by the esteemed architect, Adam Khan. It floats on the lake and rises and falls as the lake depth varies due to floods and drought. As a result, its design has protected it from being inundated on several occasions There is much to learn from the design of the visitor centre which can help with the design of buildings on floodplains. It is a truly stunning creation using wood extensively to give it a natural, warm feeling. We were keen to bring the representatives of the companies together to facilitate networking and discussion and the content of the forum was mainly created by the delegates. Although, we had a keynote speaker for every session of the two-day forum which also included an afternoon working in the reserve to rake cuttings off one of the wildflower meadows or removing invasive Crassula helmsii or New Zealand pygmyweed from the main lake. This session was characterised by the number of breaks that delegates took to chew the cud with fellow delegates and carefully remove the myriads of small toads and frogs that we found on the meadow. Everybody clearly enjoyed working on the land!