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Heather Tunstall | March 5, 2013

Love your neighbor

Community involvement was a hot topic at Mid-Am.

By Heather Tunstall


Mike Nowak, radio personality, co-host of Dig In Chicago and co-founder of Midwest Ecological Landscaping Alliance (MELA), talked to attendees about the importance of giving back to your local community. Not only does community involvement help your business in several ways, but it also just makes you feel good. Nowak delivered the message at the 2013 Mid America Horticultural Trade Show, which was held in Chicago in mid-January.

Nowak took a lesson from John Elkington, world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development, and amended it. Elkington touts the concept of a triple bottom line: People, Planet, Profit. Nowak adds to that, commending a local triple bottom line – incorporating local initiatives for social and environmental responsibility in conjunction with corporate profit.

His session focused on profiling several Chicago-area landscaping companies that take pride in local sustainability. As Nowak said, “What’s good for the community is good for the businesses in the community.” This was demonstrated through examples of charitable initiatives, employee engagement and corporate social responsibility programs.

Tom Lupfer, owner of Lupfer Landscaping, involves his entire team.

He looks at sustainability not just as an environmental idea, but also a social component. When considering whether or not to take on a proposed charitable project, he looks at three things: is it environmentally sound, is it economically feasible and is it socially equitable? If so, he and his team will likely partake.

Lupfer said this sort of ongoing activity gives his employees pride in what they do. It builds a strong community reputation, which in the long run, may add additional customers.

He was careful to say that charitable work and community reputation is a cumulative payoff – it doesn’t come quickly. But when it’s there, you’ve got a great base of testimonials and trust.

Likewise, Mark Moxley of Lake Street Supply participates in community outreach. He believes that completing work in exchange for signage and advertising isn’t very beneficial in the long run.

However, working together with other community members on a project of good will may not bring immediate impact, but will build relationships, which will lead to future business.

Meeting someone on a project and working together makes you recognizable, and gives you a good business reputation.

Christy Webber, of Christy Webber Landscapes, looks at her company’s contributions as industry “tithing.” She budgets 10 percent in dollar amounts to community projects each year.

She suggests selecting causes that supports a mutual respect – in other words, she supports those who support her business. Her company gives materials mainly, and she believes this is a great way for advertising her business, and it brings with it good karma.

There are many ways to be involved in community outreach, social responsibility and local sustainability that will benefit your business as well as build a sense of pride among employees and team members.

Getting involved with organizations such as MELA, which is a non-profit dedicated to promoting and developing sustainable practices and currently has 200-225 member companies around the Chicago area, can point you in the right direction.

Check with your local council to find organizations to help.
 



Groups looking for Mid Am replacement

While the Mid-America Horticultural Trade Show has been cancelled for 2014, it may be resurrected in 2015, but those details are still very unclear.

The Mid Am board of directors determined it was not financially viable to host the show in 2014 and recommended to the trade show owners to not host it in 2014, said Joe Khayyat, the executive director of the Illinois Green Industry Association (IGIA), the majority owner of Mid Am. IGIA sponsors the event with the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association and the Wisconsin Green Industry Federation.

“They want to see if the economy improves, how the landscape and nursery industry fares in the spring, before deciding anything more about Mid Am’s future,” said Khayyat, who is also the executive director of Mid Am. “The IGIA currently is working on some different opportunities, a show included, to fill the void left by the current Mid Am. I am not yet ready to say it won’t still be called Mid Am.”

Khayyat said attendance has steadily decreased over the last seven or eight years, which can be attributed to a general slide in trade shows, the fledgling economy and increased competition from other shows.  

He said the competition also comes from technology providing opportunities for accessible and affordable sales, marketing and educational support year-round to people in the comfort of their own homes or offices.

“The membership was not being serviced to what each organization thought would be the best situation, and we felt the show needed to be reinvented, and that is what’s happening right now,” said Bill Vogel, Mid Am board president.

The ILCA has already planned a show for 2014 – iLandscape: The Illinois Landscape Show, which “will streamline show management, be placed in a lower cost but strikingly modern suburban venue, and infuse the fun reminiscent of Mid Am trade shows of old,” said Scott Grams, executive director of ILCA. “Education will complement but not compete with the exhibit space.”

As of press time, Grams said the likely dates for the event would be in early February.

Khayyat said IGIA is working hard to also develop an event because the members and industry people need a place to gather in significant numbers.

“Sure, education always is a need,” Khayyat said. “However, the people who have attended Mid Am and who participate in similar industry events continue to tell us that so much more comes from being together, whether it’s the chance to commiserate with others facing the same difficulties or challenges, or whether it is renewing old friendships and cultivating new business relationships.”