Ahead of the curve

Ahead of the curve

Paul Morgan was practicing natural landscapes before they were popular.

October 10, 2012
Lindsey Getz

In 1984 Paul Morgan started a natural landscape business that put an emphasis on sustainable landscapes. Morgan Landscape Company, based in Metro Atlanta, was known for working with the land, Morgan says, and although it wasn’t a buzz word of the time, the focus was always on stewardship. Those founding beliefs ultimately grew into a second company that would focus solely on water management and reuse.

Rain Harvesting & Beyond. At the time the company was founded, the idea of rain harvesting was brand new in the States, though it had been done in places like Australia for decades. In 1999, The RainHarvest Company put in its first residential system, garnering the company a lot of press and even some television airtime. But Morgan admits that rainwater harvesting isn’t by any means a cut and dry business. Even the very best system is at the mercy of the weather. “If it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t work and that can be a problem,” Morgan says. “I’m always clear about that fact upfront because I don’t want my clients to be disappointed after investing a lot of money into a system that runs dry.”

Morgan admits he has turned down work that wasn’t in the best interest of his clients. Simply put, if there is a drought, the system is not going to work. “I never want clients to invest in a system that they’re unhappy with,” he continues. “Negative referrals go a lot further than positive ones. If I believe the system is going to cost more than the client can recover, I tell them—even if it means lost work. That’s really important. Many of my clients have been with me upwards of 20 years. We want that long-term relationship and the referrals and getting those means being honest and even turning down work from time to time if it’s in the client’s best interest.”

That’s why Morgan, and his business partner James King, began to get involved with other forms of water reclamation and reuse in addition to storm water management. When working on a property, Morgan says his ultimate goal is to create a truly hydrological cycle. With a Water ReUse System, gray water (non-septic water) is collected from the household and filtered below the surface and directly into the root zones of the property’s trees, shrubs, and turf. “In a truly hydrological system we would capture rainwater that can be purified and filtered for use both indoors and outdoors,” Morgan describes. “But we’d also capture laundry water and bath water to be recycled for other non-potable end uses such as irrigation or flushing toilets. The idea is that no water is wasted.”

Reusing water saves homeowners from purchasing potable drinking water from the local municipality and also decreases the burden placed on the local sewer system or the residential septic system. Besides doing value to the community, a system like this can also save homeowners money and Morgan admits that the increasing cost of water has helped drive more business.

But Morgan says that one reason a lot of residential homeowners may shy away from the idea is a belief that it will have a major impact on the way they live. However, he sees it differently. “I believe that when a home is properly plumbed that even prudent water use is not going to have an impact on their lifestyle,” Morgan says. “With the right system, they will be able to get off the grid, remain sustainable, but not have to sacrifice the way they live or the water they use. It comes down to smart planning. Just like a budget, water use needs to be balanced.”

Of the many recent projects worth noting, the LEED Platinum Southface Eco Office project included a 14,000 gallon underground cistern which collects water from nearly the entire site and re-uses it for irrigation and sewage conveyance. The company also completed the LEED Silver Eco Manor in Atlanta, which utilizes rain water for toilet flushing and gray water for sub-surface irrigation. In total, the company has worked on nine LEED projects in the past five years.

A better tomorrow. The importance of creating smart water use systems has driven The RainHarvest Company to the point where it’s Morgan’s primary business. The landscaping company is no longer his bread and butter, though he says he still does enjoy doing a smart landscape design that works with the land, as opposed to against it. When the opportunity presents itself he will still do design and build work but his focus right now is on water management. Of course, he admits, the two businesses complement each other nicely.

“You can’t have a nice landscape without water,” Morgan says. “But when we do a landscape, we ultimately want something that can be weaned off regular watering except for the vegetables and maybe annuals and perennials. My feeling is that if you have plant material that needs regular watering, perhaps it wasn’t chosen properly or was put in the wrong place.”

While Morgan wants to make a living and provide jobs through his business, he says what’s really driving the company is his passion for water conservation. “That’s why we’re in the business,” he says. “We do a lot of speaking opportunities and Lunch & Learns with engineers and architects—and we push water conservation.
We’re called to be good stewards of the resources God gave us or else we can’t expect our next generations to have plentiful water resources. That’s what really drives us. I want my grandchildren to have a big beautiful vegetable garden and not to have to worry about water bans because we used it all up. We have to be good stewards of our resources.”