A new voice enters national dialogue

A new voice enters national dialogue

Features - Interview

The recently formed National Hispanic Landscape Alliance seeks to advance professionals and their businesses within the industry and community.

August 1, 2011
Carolyn LaWell
Industry News

Back in early March, a group of Hispanic green industry professionals gathered in Washington. Some were there to see a years-long dream of unifying within the industry come true. Others made the trip with hopes of influencing policy in a way that would better their business.

No matter what the thoughts were going in, at the end of the two-day meeting, one vision emerged in the form of the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance. The organization’s goals: Give Hispanic-Americans working in the landscaping industry a voice on the issues that most concern them and communicate the benefits of the industry to the U.S. Hispanic community.

“With approximately half a million U.S. Hispanic households depending on the landscape industry for their livelihood, there should be no doubt that the concerns of the landscape industry are concerns of Hispanic-Americans across the country,” says Ralph Egües, the executive director of NHLA. “We see our association as uniquely able to connect the dots and make this fact clear.”

Hispanics make up 65-80 percent of the landscaping industry, according to NHLA. Here Egües talks to us about what NHLA hopes to accomplish in terms of educating landscapers and the community, influencing policy and increasing membership. 
Why form the alliance?

The National Hispanic Landscape Alliance was formed out of a realization of three key factors.

First of all, that we’re not sufficiently engaged in the important policy discussions that impact our livelihood. And to the extent that we’re not, others dictate our future. Secondly, while huge attention is being paid by both political parties in Washington to Hispanic issues, the concerns of the landscaping industry have not been identified as among those. Third is the simple fact that there has been tremendous growth in the number of Hispanics working in a wide range of capacities and settings within the landscaping industry.

I suppose that these factors can best be described as an awakening of needs and opportunities that were experienced by a diverse group of Hispanic industry professionals across the country.

What industry concerns do you mean, specifically?

The concerns that we have are concerns that many in the industry have. In terms of what we hope to accomplish, I think, first and foremost, we need to do all we can with and for our members to maximize future business opportunity for them.

We see two aspects to this: First of all, engagement with policy leaders, and secondly, education of the Hispanic community.

How do you plan to accomplish these goals?

With respect to the former, a big part of our effort is connecting with those most concerned about Hispanic issues and making the connection with them about the importance of this industry to our community, and the impact of the unintended consequences of some policies that have been adopted without sufficient consideration to the environmental and human health benefits of our work. Ours is the original green industry. We don’t just care about the environment, we care for it. But frankly, the environmental dialogue has been hijacked by others, and we need to take it back.

With respect to the latter, we need to recognize the importance of educating the public and helping to form public opinion. A simple example of an increasingly popular myth is that turf increases the carbon footprint because it’s maintained by power equipment. When the truth is that a well-managed lawn can capture four times the carbon that is produced by the equipment that maintains it.

The National Hispanic Landscape Alliance especially sees its role as getting the truth out, certainly with Hispanic communities around the country. We understand the contribution that well design, installed, managed landscapes can make in addressing clean water ambitions and insuring efficient water utilization in appropriate input use, improving the physical and mental health of those in the community that we serve. It’s time that we make sure others know that, too. All these benefits and our livelihoods are at risk if we don’t.

As for other member services, one key is understanding what members need. We intend to do that through a series of meetings that we’ll be conducting around the country. Fortunately, we formed a really great relationship with PLANET. We look to leverage certain appropriate programming that PLANET has already offered and perhaps wrap around it additional programming that we will develop to meet specific needs of NHLA members.

We also look to partner with other Hispanic associations. One thing that is very key to who we are is that we don’t want to be duplicating the efforts of others.

What policies does the alliance hope to influence?

I think it’s fair to say that we’re already accomplishing quite a bit. After meeting with us, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) agreed to write the EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson regarding his concerns that the EPA WaterSense 40 percent turf requirement has failed to meet the goals of the WaterSense program, was inconsistent with the approach taken on building interiors, it failed to consider the benefits of turf and climatic variances across the country, and it put hundreds of thousands of landscaping companies across the country at risk.

That’s not the only area we’ve been active in.

What other areas has NHLA tried to influence?

We’ve also been highly engaged in raising concerns about proposed changes to the H-2B regulations with elected officials in both parties and with the Department of Labor directly.

In these conversations, we have pointed out how important the H-2B program is for many of our members and the important role the program has played in creating career advancement opportunities for Hispanic Americans, who, by virtue of their linguistic and cultural competencies, are especially well suited to assume the supervisory, managerial and mechanic roles which require close interaction with H-2B workers.

We’ve explained that the predictable labor pool that the H-2B program provides makes possible year-over- year growth by reputable companies – growth that also requires the employment of additional staff in sales, in support roles, including human resources, accounting and estimating.

During many of our meetings, we have been told that our explanation that the jobs that H-2B workers make possible are jobs that the American workforce wants to fill is frankly one that others hadn’t heard. Of course, we’re preparing a formal response to the proposed rules and the wage increase schedule that goes into effect in January 2012.

But we believe in consultation. We think it’s important to understand what others are thinking, and share our thoughts and try to find ways to accommodate those things that are important to our industry.

How does NHLA plan to build its membership?

This is really grass roots. Our members are talking with others that they know, their colleagues in their communities, others that they know from their past associations.

Obviously association staff is supporting these efforts, but the key is really member-to-prospect contact. The excitement of our members is really the most effective way to reach out to others.

I think the reasons folks are joining is this is a very proactive organization. It’s an organization that is making the most out of a very real opportunity that exists – the heightened awareness of the growth of the Hispanic portion of the U.S. population, and with those increased numbers, the concentration of political influence.

It’s very important that our industry, which employees up to 500,000 Hispanic -Americans, be recognized as important to the Hispanic community and that our issues are key to the livelihood of 500,000 Hispanic families in the U.S. – that’s a lot of people. L&L

The author is an associate editor at Lawn & Landscape. She can be reached at clawell@gie.net.