Taking action

Taking action

Features - Cover Story

The 2011 Environmental Business Award winners set themselves apart by transforming their businesses and cities into greener places.

December 16, 2011
Carolyn LaWell
Industry News

Green, organic, sustainable, environmentally-friendly – these are all words that more and more companies are putting into practice and customers are asking to see in services. But what does it mean to be all-encompassing stewards of the environment?

The three companies that won Lawn & Landscape's 2011 Environmental Business Awards are trying to demonstrate just that – from their corporate facilities and their equipment to their services and education of the public. Because of this, they've proved themselves leaders in the industry. But, being in front of industry trends isn't necessarily why they do it. Read on, and you'll find each of these companies has embraced the movement because they say it's the right thing to do.

Pacific Landscape Management

Hillsboro, Ore.

Around 2007, Pacific Landscape Management's commercial customers started asking the company a new question: Was it providing and maintaining landscapes with sustainable practices? It was a question Bob Grover, president, and his staff hadn't given much thought to, but they listened carefully.

Pacific Landscape Management built a rain garden in front of its headquarters to prevent runoff.

Since then, Pacific Landscape Management made major investments and changes in its facility, its fleet and services. Solar panels on the facility's roof produce 95 percent of its overall power usage. A bioswale services runoff from the gravel backyard and a rain garden was installed in the front of the building. A zero percent waste initiative has been implemented and managers drive hybrid cars. Organic blends are used for fertilizing and herbicides and pesticides have been reduced. All of which have created a leadership position for the company in its local market, Grover says.

Among the initiatives Grover says he is most proud of is the company's aggressive promotion of weather-based irrigation and updating its equipment fleet.

Pacific Landscape Management has calculated it saves customers more than 55 million gallons of water annually. The water savings has equaled significant monetary reductions and a two-year return on investment.

"We're able to help people save water, which is good for the environment, but we've also been able to help these customers reduce their operational costs," Grover says. "When you have a win like that it really helps push the sustainable movement."

Over a two-year period, Pacific Landscape Management also replaced all of its two-cycle hand-held equipment. The 150 new pieces have cut the company's emissions by about 80 percent, which is equivalent to taking 180 cars off the road, Grover says.

Pacific Landscape Management made updates to its equipment and fleet and holds an annual sustainability fair for the public.

The company tries to quantify its changes to make them more meaningful when talking to customers and other industry professionals, which it does through newsletters, conferences and its own sustainability fair.

"We have developed a one-hour lecture that we present at a number of places here in the local area to most of the real estate trade associations – there have been some facility tours," Grover says. "One thing we've also done is we have a sustainability fair that we host every summer. We invite in all of our customers and prospects, and we set up displays of all of our sustainable practices. We invite in some of our suppliers and local organizations, the city, the county, the water bureau."

When asked why Grover didn't just stop with customer requests, why add the solar panels and the fair, he says, "To truly embrace sustainability and environmental consciousness, you can't just do it for your customers, you have to do it for yourself as well.

"To encourage our employees to embrace this for our customers, we feel that we have to live a sustainable life," he says. "Let's not just take the simple view and do the things that make money. Some of these decisions that we've had to make were the right thing to do. It may cost us more, but in the long run, it's the right the thing to do."

Ruppert Landscape Co.

Laytonsville, Md.

Ruppert Landscape Co. recently completed two projects that transformed underutilized spaces into useable and sustainable areas.

Shady Grove Adventist Hospital reached out to Ruppert with a rendering of a green roof it wanted installed off its cancer wing. What transpired was a $1.2 million project that included more than 20,000 square feet of extensive and intensive green roof space.

The main challenge was not interfering with hospital operations, such as taking up too many parking spaces for a staging area, or making noise because the green roof is adjacent to patients' rooms and on top of an operating room. "We couldn't use any mechanical equipment on the roof," says Shane Carmadella, business development manager of Ruppert's Maryland landscape construction branch. "All of the pavers, all of the timbers and lumber for the arbors were cut off-site, assembled in the parking lot and craned up."

The formerly vacant roof is now the Barbara Truland-Butz Healing Garden, which offers a therapeutic environment for patients, visitors and staff. It features a stainless steel fountain, 75 tons of boulders, deck seating and patio areas, a pergola and 5,500 square feet of concrete paver units. It also includes 600 cubic yards of drainage aggregate and lightweight soil mix, a drip irrigation system and more than 30,000 plants.

Ruppert donated $100,000 of in-kind work to the project.

Ruppert also undertook transforming a parking lot, trash collection area and numerous walkways into a multi-functional, sustainable urban plaza for George Washington University. The once dimly-lit alleyways and concrete space is now used by students and staff as athletic and leisure space as well as an outdoor classroom.

The Square 80 Plaza was renovated by using more than 4,000 trees, shrubs and perennials. The sustainable elements – biofiltration planters, underground cisterns, a rain barrel, rain gardens, bioswale, pervious paving and native plants – work together to enable the project to harvest 100 percent of the on-site rainwater for irrigation, maintenance and other amenities.

"There are a lot of semi-porous and porous surfaces used to reduce excess runoff into the stormwater management system," says Ken Thompson, branch manager of the company's Virginia landscape construction branch "The property drains into the Potomac River basin, so any water runoff is going to eventually end up in the Potomac River."

The project's big challenge was completing the majority of the work while students were on summer break, Thompson says. The Square 80 Plaza project is also one of the first landscapes to participate in the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), he says.

Ruppert has received an uptick in requests for sustainable projects in recent years and it helps that they have projects like these to show potential customers, says Bob Jones, vice president and director of the Landscape Construction Division. Plus it's a part of the industry the company wants to capture and lead.

"It's cutting edge. It's certainly the wave of the future. It's the right thing," he says. "It's one of our company's values. We drive hybrid cars; we have a solar panel system at our office; we have a LEED certified building. … We believe it."

Ruppert transformed The Square 80 Plaza at George Washington University from a parking lot and dim alleyway into a SITES landscape that is both sustainable and multi-use.


The Mustard Seed

Chaska, Minn.

One night, Mark Halla had an extremely detailed dream. God told him to build a garden center. The property with its rolling farmland, trees, creek, even the price – it was all mapped out for him.

But it wasn't until nearly a decade later when he was looking for land to build The Mustard Seed, did Halla really give more thought to the dream.

Halla actually found the property he dreamt of, but it wasn't for sale. So he asked the owners if he could buy it.

They said yes.

That was the first challenge.

Cory Whitmer, a partner at The Mustard Seed, hosts school field trips on wellness, horticulture, animal husbandry and renewable energy at the company’s headquarters.

Halla and his wife, Kay, wanted to build a garden center that would fully embrace environmental stewardship. Here are some of the investments The Mustard Seed made with $1.5 million.

The 27 acres of rolling farmland was sloped and had erosion problems. To fix these issues, 1 million cubic yards of soil was excavated and distributed around the property. The land was re-graded so that 95 percent of the area's runoff water is channeled and pre-filtered through a rain garden more than 600 feet long and filled with native plants and grasses. From there, the runoff enters one of two sediment control ponds.

The Mustard Seed has a suction pump that uses the water from the sediment control ponds for daily irrigation. Geosource heat pumps connected to the sediment control ponds provide 100 percent of the company's heating and cooling needs through in-floor radiant heat and air exchangers.

"Why would we build something that wasn't an example for others to follow?" says Halla. "We wanted to create a model that could be easily replicated and (show) you don't have to be this huge company." The Mustard Seed's annual sales are about $1 million and it employs up to 25 people a year.

The Mustard Seed bought a wind turbine to produce 100 percent of the company’s energy. Halla (top) says 55 percent of the $200,000 cost came from federal grants and stimulus money.

A factor Halla overlooked when building on the property was the wind. The plants constantly blew over. The answer: cover the display lot with pea gravel, which in addition to keeping plants upright, allows water to flow to the soil.

Obviously though, the wind was still there. So The Mustard Seed installed a 39.9 kilowatt, 160-feet-tall wind turbine, which provides more than 100 percent of the company's electricity.

Halla has wanted the community to embrace the environmental initiatives as much as his staff. The Mustard Seed offers seminars and a farmer's market. This year, approximately 1,500 students toured The Mustard Seed. "To have people come to our site to buy stuff is great, but the future of our industry or our business is really capturing the next generation," Halla says. "We thought, 'What is our industry's equivalent of the Happy Meal?'"

Halla says sales haven't increased with the implementation of the sustainable initiatives, but he attributes that more to the economy. In recent years, three of his competitors have gone out of business, while The Mustard Seed has seen more foot traffic and sales have remained even.

"Our recognition in the marketplace has clearly been one in which people don't look at us and say, 'Oh, they're just out to make money,'" Halla says. "They see us as a partner in the community."

The 2011 Environmental Business Awards were handed out at this year’s GIE+EXPO in Louisville, Ky. To watch video interviews with each company, visit our website www.lawnandlandscape.com.

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