And the winner is

Features - Design/Build

Here's what you should know when entering green industry award competitions.

April 13, 2011
Brian Horn

Photography can play an important role on how the judges look at an entry. To the right is a photo of the Hewit Foundation Healing Garden, which won Environmental Landworks Co. an award from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. Photo: Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado


Will Spiegelberg used to get brochures in the mail about award contests, and he would just throw them away. After all, how could his company compete against larger companies with more resources? He’d be wasting his time and money on something he had no shot at winning.

Well, he eventually had a project in the $50,000 range that he felt had a chance. He was right and the project won, and Spiegelberg says other companies shouldn’t be afraid to enter a contest because of their size.

“Every submittal is judged against itself and not against the other submittals,” says Spiegelberg, PLANET awards committee chairperson and former awards judge.

But to win, first you have to enter. So, Lawn & Landscape spoke with some judges about ways you can get an advantage against the competition.

It’s in the photograph.

You might take great pictures of your kids or pets, but when it comes to pictures of your work that you want to include in an entry, here’s a tip – leave it to a professional.
“You can really see a difference between the ones that were professionally photographed compared to the ones that it was somebody on the crew took pictures,” says Ann Joyce, 2010 Planet Environmental Improvement Awards judge.

Spiegelberg says to make sure photos are horizontal, especially the “wow” shot.

And while retouching photos might not be allowed, cropping is permitted, so remember to cut out flaws in your design and construction.

“Many projects do have issues with things dying or whatever,” he says. “It’s important to leave those out of the picture. We’ve had people submit things with dead trees in them.”

No matter if you are doing the picture taking, or paying a pro, make sure to take the photos on a low contrast day – overcast but bright or at sunrise/sunset, says Dan Long, chairperson of the 2010 Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado Excellence In Landscape awards.

“Keep your back to the sun and carefully frame your shots so they are not overwhelmed by too much sky or empty foreground,” he says.

The type of camera and lens used when photographing will also factor in on how well the pictures tell the story of the project.

A wide-angle lens pulls the foreground closer and pushes away the background, Long says.

“That might be great for a close-in pathway or patio, or to capture a vignette within your landscape,” he says. “A telephoto lens does the opposite and will compress or layer a longer shot.

“To get other interesting shots to communicate your story, try getting up higher on a ladder or back into your plantings shooting inward.”

Keep it simple.

Much like you might pay a pro to shoot the photos of your work, Bill Horn says you might want to invest in a professional writer to work on your narrative, or find someone in your company who has a writing background.

“Don’t be super-verbose,” says Horn, former PLANET awards committee chair and judge. “Be concise, be clear, be articulate and get your point across, frame by frame, shot by shot and all the other aspects of the narrative.

 “But don’t be overly flowery or verbose because us as judges, we are looking at hundreds of entries. We start reading these flowery long winded things and frankly you tune out.”

Joyce recommends between 20 and 30 words per slide, while Horn says you should focus the narrative not only on the work that was completed, but how this project is different.

“Talk about sustainable practices that you are using and partnering with the owner, the management company, whoever it might be … talk about innovation, techniques that you are using, talk about safety,” he says.

Make a plan.
Preparing to enter a project into a competition before you start it can be a great way to accentuate the story and impress the judges. You can photograph the project as you are working on it, which will show judges the impact you made on an area.

“They should really think ahead of time what they want to convey about this project,” Joyce says. “So, if the project had some challenges or something like that, it’s good if they can visually represent that and include that in their narrative.”

A contractor should think about what can set a project apart from other projects the judges might be seeing.

“It’s great to see some before and afters because that really tells the judges what kinds of obstacles there were – just really the kind of design intent too. And they should include things like that in the narrative,” Joyce says.

It also doesn’t hurt to wait a little bit and choose projects that have matured, Long says. “Plantings that have filled in and flowered and trees that have flushed out with new growth will really add a higher level of quality to your project,” he says.

“Images that display vast areas of mulch, concrete and lawn may not be giving the impression you hope.”

The more eyes, the better. 

You might understand every little detail of a project, and you may think you conveyed that in your project submittal. But you worked on the project, so you know the ins and outs, and may have glossed over an important piece of the story.

That’s why it’s best to find someone who is familiar with the green industry, preferably in your company, but who didn’t work on the project. They can tell you if there are any holes or redundancies in the presentation.

“If they don’t understand parts of the presentation, there’s a good chance the judges aren’t going to understand it as well,” Spiegelberg says. “It’s good to have a set of unfamiliar eyes take a look at it.”

Turn plaques into profit.

Hopefully, if you apply some of these strategies, you’ll be collecting awards so fast you’ll run out of wall space to display them. But don’t let them just hang  on the walls. Use them as tools to market your company to the public.

Spiegelberg posts his awards on his website and has them in his portfolio when he meets with clients. Joyce says mentioning you won an award on Facebook and Twitter will get word out about your good news, and the award proves to clients the company is professional when it comes to its landscaping work.

“It shows that they are very serious about what they are doing and from the employee side it recognizes the employees that did the work that the company wants to acknowledge their awesome work,” she says.

And remember, no project is too simple to be acknowledged.

“Don’t be discouraged if you feel like you have an award winning project, but it didn’t cost that much money,” Joyce says. “Put it in.”

Winning landscapes
Click here to see photos of award-winning work from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado and the California Landscape Contractors Association.

The author is an associate editor at Lawn & Landscape. He can be reached at