Ever Greening: Madison No Fear Dentistry boosts its bottom line by staying ahead of the eco curve

As Madison No Fear Dentistry’s David Ducommun has discovered, customer service isn’t always about what you can directly offer the customer – sometimes it’s about what you can do for the customer’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Sure, you can get cookies and warm neck wraps at Ducommun’s dental office, and as the business’s name implies, its dentists and hygienists advertise a gentle approach for its sometimes skittish clients. But according to Ducommun, one of the draws each year for new clients is Madison No Fear Dentistry’s reputation as a green local business – a reputation that’s cemented in people’s minds by the solar panels that adorn the roof of his Mineral Point Road building.

“We’re always re-evaluating. Even simple things like the coffee cups that we use.” – Dr. David Ducommun on Madison No Fear Dentistry’s environmental efforts

“We track all our new patients, and a number of patients every year end up here purely because they saw we were green and had solar panels, and I think that’s a really important thing to watch,” said Ducommun.

Indeed, Ducommun is something of a pioneer when it comes to greening one’s business – a fact that earned Madison No Fear Dentistry the 2012 Sustainable Small Business of the Year Award from In Business magazine.

“Madison’s a very socially conscious sort of a city, at least green-wise,” said Ducommun. “I heard a statistic one time, I don’t know the numbers exactly, but there’s a percentage of the population, if you’re a green business, they’ll simply come to you because of the philosophy, and then there’s another percentage of people that if you’re the same price as everyone else, they’ll come to you because you’re a green business owner.”

While Ducommun’s entree into business sustainability practices did not primarily follow a bottom-line calculus (his home’s solar panels were installed before his current dental facility was built, and he refers to his sustainability efforts as almost a “spiritual thing”), evidence continues to pile up to support a solid bottom-line business case for sustainable business initiatives.

In fact, much of the green movement’s momentum, at least from a business perspective, is coming from small and medium-sized businesses like Ducommun’s.

One report, titled “SMEs Set Their Sights on Sustainability: Case Studies from the U.K., U.S. and Canada,” concluded that small and medium-sized businesses were putting more and more emphasis on sustainability and reaping financial benefits in the process.

The 2011 report from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants cited customers’ value systems as well as the opportunity to position one’s business as a good corporate citizen as primary reasons for businesses’ greater emphasis on sustainability.

“We are seeing a shift in culture,” CIMA’s Sandra Rapacioli told GreenBiz.com. “[Small and medium-sized businesses] are looking past survival and recognizing that successful sustainability performance translates to long-term success. Many are maximizing sustainability practices by also linking them to short-term goals, such as cost efficiency and competitor differentiation.”

Always greening

For Ducommun, solar panels are not just guiding beacons for Madison’s most environmentally conscious customers, they’re an important energy source as well. The panels provide 30% of the business’s electricity needs and 100% of its hot water needs. In addition, the business recycled many of the materials it uses, including office equipment, carpets, and furniture. It recently replaced its LCD lights with LED lights (which cost $6 a year to run instead of $30 to $50), uses steam sterilization to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals, and installed a waterless vacuum to save more than 750,000 gallons of water per year.

That’s all part of the business’s environmental re-evaluation process, which Ducommun says never really ends.

“We’re always re-evaluating,” said Ducommun. “Even simple things like the coffee cups that we use. Those things break down. They don’t stay in a landfill forever and ever, so they’re biodegradable.”

That attention to environmental detail is part and parcel of his practice’s approach to business, says Ducommun.


“We have to pass things onto our children and the planet has to sustain life for them, so I felt like it was my obligation to do as much good and as little damage to the earth as we go through our lives,” said Ducommun. “And it’s a constant thing for me. I’ve got the same equipment on my house, and we have a near-zero electric gas bill at home because we just apply the same principles here.”

Of course, the bottom-line advantages aren’t simply the result of the goodwill that’s built up among Madison’s environmentally savvy residents. One can pocket considerable savings over time with appropriate planning and an upfront financial commitment. According to Ducommun, if you’re building a new facility, solar panels are definitely something you should consider.

“I know the thermal panels have a very rapid payback, because their cost relative to what they produce is a reasonable balance,” said Ducommun. “So the numbers that I recall are six to eight years for a thermal system, so for any business that is putting up a new building, it can be designed into the building itself. Why not put in something that has such a fast payback?”

While setting a positive example may be one of Ducommun’s best contributions to the planet (he notes that another local dental practice installed thermal and electrical panels on its building after Madison No Fear built its office), he’s not shy about actively encouraging other businesses, particularly local small businesses, to go greener.

“I think it comes down to the commitment level of the owners of the business,” said Ducommun. “Obviously, in a skyscraper, it’s not a good design, you can’t really use much for solar panels, but in a building that you’re building from scratch, it’s very easy to incorporate these things into the design of the building, and I think it’s appropriate for all businesses to consider, yes.”

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