Going green

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Three winners of the Environmental Business Awards are recognized for promoting green projects.

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December 14, 2010
Carolyn LaWell

Aloha Landscaping and LMS Guam installed a green roof on the Coast 360 Federal Credit Union in Guam. The project was the first of its kind on the island. Photo: Aloha Landscaping A fleet of propane equipment, a hurricane-proof green roof and a portfolio of water-saving projects took home the top prizes in the 2010 Environmental Business Awards.

Lawn & Landscape put out a call asking landscape contractors who made a direct environmental impact or successfully overcame major environmental obstacles in order to complete a project or body of work.

Eric Hansen, president of Competitive Lawn Service; Peter Salmeron, chairman of Complete Landscaping Systems, and Roger Grothe, president of Aloha Landscaping were recognized for their accomplishments at the GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Ky. Case Construction sponsored the awards and gave each winning company a trip for two to the Case Tomahawk Customer Center in Tomahawk, Wis., for a customized hands-on equipment training and operation experience, as well as a $1,000 Case gift card.


Propane powered
When Eric Hansen read about a Dixie Chopper salesman driving a propane-powered lawn mower from Indiana to Sacramento, Calif., it sparked an idea Hansen hadn’t thought of during his nearly two decades in business.

“I thought that was really interesting that they would come up with an engine that would work and run and operate on propane,” says Hansen, president of Competitive Lawn Service in Downers Grove, Ill.

Hansen turned to the Internet with questions about converting his equipment to propane. There was nothing. He called propane wholesalers. They thought he was nuts. “They said, ‘We don’t know what you’re talking about. This is crazy,’” Hansen says.

A similar story has taken place in the last three years as Hansen has navigated the world of propane-fueled equipment through his own experimentation.

He started by installing propane engines into two ride-on mowers. They performed so well he decided to take the idea one step further, and then another and another. Now, he’s retrofitted equipment of all sizes with propane tanks. From Roush, Hansen purchased the first Ford F-350 to run on propane. And Competitive Lawn Service installed a 1,000-gallon propane tank on its property.

“This isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t cheap,” Hansen says. “The reality is that this is beginning to shape the market for what it actually can be. I think over time things are going to change. Manufacturers will hopefully not be so old school and respond to these things.”

While Hansen has made propane work for his company, it has created headaches.

First was meeting compliance issues. What should have been a 30-day process to install the propane tank turned into seven months of waiting to receive permits and to meet codes.

Second, the upfront cost involved: That F-350 cost $43,000. The company received about $9,500 in state and federal money for buying an alternative-fuel vehicle, but Hansen says it can take a year to see the checks.

Third, there’s risk in betting on government reimbursement. Competitive Lawn Service was getting a $.50 per gallon tax credit from the federal government, but in 2010 it stopped extending the credit for lawn equipment use.

“The fun thing is, yes we can do it, and we can make this is a viable opportunity,” Hansen says. “It’s difficult, but we can do it. I think it’s worth it, and I think it will be worth it over time as we drive the prices down.”

Certainly, Hansen has seen benefits: Installing a fill station on site and working with suppliers has dropped Hansen’s price for propane to $1.70 a gallon.

“The benefit is that propane is cheaper annually than gasoline and it always has been,” he says. “The second thing is that the equipment runs cleaner and more efficient, it’s an efficiency benefit and it’s a benefit on the maintenance.”

Instead of changing oil every 25 hours, on propane-run equipment Hansen now does it every 100 hours.

The fuel is in enclosed containers and can’t spill from its tanks onto trailers or customers’ lawns. And propane cuts emissions on his equipment by as much as 60 percent.

Hansen’s residential and government clients haven’t shown much interest in the switch to propane. But he’s made headway with larger companies with established environmental policies of their own.

In 2010, Competitive Lawn Service used 35,000 gallons of fuel, 5,000 of which was propane. Hansen’s goal is to burn about 25,000 gallons of propane in 2011.

The jump will be helped partially because of Manchester Tank’s new one-pound propane cylinders due out in January 2011. The cylinders can be used to fuel smaller equipment like blowers and trimmers.

“We worked for a year and a half screaming to get one-pounders and the market responded,” Hansen says. “Every day gets even better and better because I see more equipment we can retrofit.”


Green Roofs in Guam
Like with any construction project, Roger Grothe knew he’d come across the unpredictable when he put in a bid to install the green roof on the Coast 360 Federal Credit Union. After all, his business, Aloha Landscaping was in Mendota Heights, Minn. And the credit union – well – the credit union was in Guam.

“We don’t see a need to limit our boundaries,” says Grothe, president of Aloha. “Every project is a learning experience.”

Some more than others.

With plane tickets at $2,500 a piece, Grothe knew he couldn’t send a large crew to Guam to construct the roof. Originally approached with the idea by Bob Salas, president of LMS Guam, a real estate and landscaping company on the Pacific island, Grothe developed a partnership with Salas for their two companies to work together on the project.

The biggest challenge was getting the supplies to Guam because everything, even certain types of sand, must be shipped by boat.

“We ended up using (cinders) as the mineral for the green roof media,” Grothe says. “We couldn’t use coral because of the lime and how quickly it breaks down, so we ended up using volcanic cinders, which could have come from Japan. We actually worked with Home Depot to deliver the cinders just because they have such amazing shipping rates.”

During the planning process, the companies ran into problems with certain supplies being too expensive, others just simply not able to work with the native landscape and species.

“They have a big problem with rhinoceros beetle and so all of a sudden there were certain materials we couldn’t use in the roof because it would attract the rhinoceros beetle, which is devastating to palm trees,” Grothe says. “You’re working through all of these weird scenarios. We finally get the soil right and then we find out a bunch of the ingredients can’t be used. We ended up using stabilized compost and came up with a great blend, it’s heavy, sand-based media.”

Over the years, Aloha has established itself as a green roof company but never before had Grothe confronted such issues. They needed materials that would work with Guam’s surroundings, but also its environmental conditions. The green roof had to withstand hurricane-force winds and torrential downpours that could dump as much as 6 feet of water in 24 hours.

The green roof allows any water that hits the site to be drained, filtered and depleted of pollutants, stored as non-potable water and then used again for irrigation. Guam, while in the center of the Pacific, has a history of drought, making the sustainable system even more important, Grothe says.

“(The roof) is a big canopy, and when it grows in, the purpose is to reduce reflection onto the building there by keeping the building cooler,” Grothe says of the 3,000-square-foot roof. “It’s the first one, and it will set the standard just educating everyone on the construction site about how it works and what you have to prepare for and how to schedule it, so it was a great opportunity for everybody to learn.”

The project has paved the way for more of its kind on the island and deepened the partnership between LMS Guam and Aloha, who are now exchanging personnel to cross train and mentor each other’s employees. 

“You never know what’s out there, and you have to be open to it,” Grothe says. “The economy has allowed everyone to be a little more open and not so protective of thinking you know everything.”


Complete Landscaping Systems designed and installed a water-filtration system in the fountain of one of its clients. Photo: Doug Thomas, Complete Landscaping SystemsRecycling Water
When Complete Landscaping Systems was contacted by one of its large banking clients who wanted to obtain LEED certification for its building, the idea meshed perfectly with the landscaping company’s sustainability business strategy.

Serving as a consultative resource, Complete Landscaping Systems looked at the characteristics of the building and the land and it quickly became evident that the large, decorative water fountain – a highlight of the property – held promise.

“To make that the main opportunity, to push forward the idea that we are proponents for protecting the environment, that opportunity stood out above a lot of things” says Cabbell Lane, director of business development at the Wichita, Kan.-based firm. “Our company helped advise them about the different opportunities that they could have in terms of recycling the water. How they could reroute the current, the plumbing of it, basically reconfiguring everything so that rain water would be the source for replenishment and also to protect against run off and things of that nature that could harm the landscaping overall.”

Consulting with experts on sprinkler systems and researching irrigation and technology, the project took Complete Landscaping Systems six months and incorporated eight professionals for the planning and construction process.
What transpired was a fountain that pumps recycled water, cutting down on water and electric usage.

“It saved us about 5 percent annually in our combination of base water savings, water usage savings and overall efficiencies, which given the expense of what it took to run the fountain for the time of the year that it did run was a pretty big deal,” says Lane, who worked for the client at the time of the project two years ago.

The system improved the quality of water in the fountain as well.

“The water filtration, water fountain, which is entirely 100 percent recycled, was the cornerstone of efforts to get them qualified for their eventual submittal and eventual approval as a LEED Gold certified building,” Lane says.

Since the project was completed, the client has hired Complete Landscaping Systems to spearhead an installment program of weather-based irrigation controllers to manage overall water usage at about 250 of the client’s sites.

“One of the principle components of our service standard is our relationships and how we partner with our clients and business associates,” Lane says. “This was an amazing opportunity to dive into something extremely important and help one of our biggest clients get something that would drive their efforts forward in terms of sustainability, which we advocate quite highly.”


The author is associate editor of Lawn & Landscape. Send her an e-mail at clawell@gie.net