How can the optical industry become more sustainable?


Last year the UK population ranked the environment behind Brexit and health as the third most critical issue of concern, ahead of the economy, crime and immigration. As we finally come out of the EU the feeling is that anxiety around the environment will only heighten, especially amongst young people, thanks mainly to Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough.

Julian Wiles, Founder and Owner, Performance Lenses Ltd and Chair of the John Conway Discussion
Julian Wiles, Founder and Owner, Performance Lenses Ltd and Chair of the John Conway Discussion
Concern about the wastage generated by the optical industry, a great deal of which can’t be recycled, has been growing. However, we don’t appear to have any idea of the scale of the problem facing the optical industry. Hundreds of thousands of bespoke eyewear are being made every day leading to a trail of plastic, cardboard, electrical and chemical waste. UK labs have always tried to comply with the current guidelines, at a cost.

Contact lenses are now being recycled but how about the millions of dummy spectacle lenses being produced every year? For every frame sold two lenses are made and two dummy lenses are thrown away. What is the impact of optics on the environment and how can we make our everyday practice more environmentally sustainable? What steps can we take to reduce our carbon footprint? One of the main problems appears to be plastics. The fact is that very little has been recycled over the years and plastic takes up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfills.

Recognising the importance of the issue, Optrafair 20/20 will provide the platform for a panel of experts to focus on Environmental Sustainability, presenting a host of strategies they’re undertaking, followed by an interactive panel discussion. Named the John Conway Discussion, after the esteemed veteran of the optical industry who sadly passed away last year, the inaugural session will be chaired by Julian Wiles, Founder and Owner of Performance Lenses and FMO Director. As Vice Chair of FMO’s Lens Focus Group, Julian understands that a number of members are aware of the importance of the issue and the need for the industry to cut down on waste and become more environmentally responsible.

Julian will be chairing and will give a 15-minute introduction to the topic. During his introduction he will read out short statements detailing optical companies’ position on environmental sustainability. Steps they have already taken or processes that they are actively adopting to become more sustainable and/or to promote sustainability will then be highlighted. Finally real evidence and statistics showing that the processes they have adopted are helping the progression towards environmental sustainability will be revealed.

A number of speakers who have placed sustainability at the very heart of their business plans will provide a short overview before they take part in an hour’s panel discussion, where Julian will ask each of the panellists' questions.

Julian will sum up at the end of the session, and will display a list of companies who have green credentials so that people can go and visit their stands after the session.

Presentations will be made by:
  • George Bailey, CEO and Co-founder of Coral Eyewear
  • Harry Dennis, CEO and founder of Waterhaul
  • Lucy Crane, Co-founder of Retrospecced
  • David Green, founder of David Green Eyewear
  • Simon Berry, Simon Berry Optometrists                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
After the presentations there will be a unique opportunity for the audience to ask questions and make comments, engaging with the speakers and contributing their own thoughts. Julian is looking for ideas and developments from as wide a range of the optical industry and profession as is possible, aiming to compile a guide for companies who have made sustainability a major part of their manufacturing process or practice. If you’d like to be included as an individual, a company or have a product listed, please email

The inaugural John Conway Discussion ‘Environmental Sustainability’ has been given a prime 2-hour slot in the Business Theatre from 9.30 to 11.30 on 5 April at Optrafair 20/20, which runs from 4 April to 6 April at the NEC in Birmingham.