Giving voice to the green industry

Leadership Awards - Leadership Awards

Longtime industry communicator Cindy Code excels at sharing the importance of green spaces.

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October 13, 2020

“You can’t underestimate the value of a healthy and thriving public park. It has the ability to transform neighborhoods and people’s lives,” says Cindy Code, executive director, Project EverGreen.
Photos courtesy of Cindy Code

As former editor and publisher of Lawn & Landscape magazine – and one of the field’s most respected journalists – Cindy Code has long been a leading voice for the green industry. In her current role as executive director of Project EverGreen, Code gets to keep doing what she does best: advocating for the importance of green spaces and the dedicated professionals who maintain them.

Finding a home

With a freshly minted journalism degree from Ohio University in hand, at 23, Code found herself with an offer to join GIE Media as an editor at Lawn Care Professional magazine. When GIE acquired what would eventually become Lawn & Landscape, Code became the magazine’s first assistant editor.

“I didn’t know anything about GIE Media or the green industry at the time, but one thing led to another,” says Code, a Cleveland native who went on to spend 22 years with Lawn & Landscape magazine – first as an editor and later as publisher and group publisher – before leaving GIE in 2009 to open her own green industry consulting firm.

“Cindy joined GIE media as an assistant editor, but it didn’t take long for her to demonstrate her journalism strengths and a passion for the professional landscape market,” says Richard Foster, GIE’s founder and chairman, who counts Code as a personal friend.

“Cindy was a driving force behind our Lawn & Landscape media business for two decades, taking the magazine from a number four position in a crowded market to become the leading magazine serving the industry.”

While Code admits she initially took the job at GIE thinking she might move on to something else after a few years, something about the green industry clicked – and she never wanted to leave.

“It ended up being very fortuitous,” Code says of her first job offer, which evolved into a long-term career. “We were able to do some really exciting things with the magazine, helping it grow at the same time the industry was evolving and growing. I never expected when I took the job all those years ago that the green industry would end up being such a home to me. But it does, it still feels like home.”

Cindy Code, with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, at a Project Evergreen event where the group helped makeover a local park.

Finding a mission

When Code first started at Lawn & Landscape, the magazine was small, averaging just 60 pages. But under her leadership it grew to a height of 200 pages, she says, thanks in part to the robust growth and evolution underway in the industry at the time.

“The lawn and landscape industry was starting to evolve into the full-service industry that it is today,” Code says. “Companies were learning to diversify, offering new services such as design/build, irrigation and tree care. I learned a lot from talking to the business owners in the industry – learning what made them tick and how they grew their businesses.”

While at Lawn & Landscape, Code had ample opportunity to write about the many merits of the green industry, from its role in increasing property values and protecting the environment to its power to enhance and beautify people’s lives.

“We spent a lot of time talking about how great the industry is and how lucky we are to be a part of it – and how the green industry changes people’s lives for the better,” recalls Code, who was inducted into the Turf and Ornamental Communicators (TOCA) Hall of Fame in 2014. “But at times it felt as if we were preaching to the choir. We realized it was important to find ways to help people outside of our industry to recognize the value of this work as well.”

The result: Code, Den Gardner, Norm Goldenberg, Phil Fogarty, Paul McDonough, Tom Delaney and several other key players in the industry joined forces in 2003 to launch Project EverGreen with support from a $50,000 initial donation from the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (a legacy organization of the National Association of Landscape Professionals).

“It started as a (public relations) initiative with billboards and bus signs that talked about all the positive benefits of green spaces,” Code says. After the 2008-09 recession, the nonprofit shifted to a project-based platform to, as Code puts it, “bring our messages to life.”

Since 2011, Code has served as executive director for Project EverGreen, which today offers programs to support green space makeovers in city parks and public spaces across the country and to provide free landscaping and snow removal services to families of active duty servicemen and women through GreenCare for Troops and SnowCare for Troops.

Project EverGreen partners closely with city parks and recreation and public works departments, local governments, resident volunteers and local lawn and landscape companies – which often donate their materials and services – to make its community green space makeovers happen.

Alongside Project EverGreen, Cindy Code helps revamp green spaces for communities to enjoy.

“We get buy-in from the parks department because they’re going to have to sustain it, and participation from community residents because the park is ultimately theirs,” Code says. “You can’t underestimate the value of a healthy and thriving public park. It has the ability to transform neighborhoods and people’s lives.”

A significant portion of Project EverGreen’s funding comes from within the green industry, though the nonprofit is reaching out to corporate partners and grant-awarding foundations outside of the industry for help.

Recent success stories include the makeover of Pingree Park, an 18-acre neighborhood park in Detroit, where Project EverGreen was able to partner with Quicken Loans, leaders in the city’s auto industry, and other Detroit-based businesses and foundations to bring new life into a community green space that had fallen into disrepair.

“When we first went there and toured this park, it was a ghost town. You didn’t see anybody outside. It was sad to see it overgrown and vacant,” Code says.

After roughly three years of renovation there, Code now counts many of the nearby residents as friends. “Today, when you go to the park, you see people playing, you see strollers and dogs and kids running around laughing,” she says. “One of the residents told us she had missed the laughter of kids in the park, and now that laughter has come back.”

Project EverGreen’s work to provide complimentary lawn care for active duty military families began in 2006 thanks to partner lawn care companies across the nation. Through its online database, Project EverGreen is able to match volunteers with those needing their services.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many GreenCare for Troops volunteers expanded their scope to also provide free lawn care to frontline health care employees.

“We’re able to help take one thing off of their to-do list,” Code says. “But it’s also about providing peace and serenity and relaxation to these families. If you have a busy, stressed day, you can go sit in your backyard and feel that calm that comes from the gift of green space.”

“Cindy finds ways to connect the entrepreneurs of this industry while shining a bright light on the best of what we do and how we do it.” Phil Fogarty, Weed Man sub-franchisor

A voice for the industry

As a leading voice and ambassador for the lawn and landscape industry for more than three decades, Code has played a key role in shaping what it is today.

“Cindy Code has devoted her career to promoting the green industry,” says Phil Fogarty, a Weed Man sub-franchisor in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and New York who also serves as an advisory council member with Project EverGreen. “Her work as a journalist, editor and publisher went way beyond covering a story or reporting on a trend. Cindy finds ways to connect the entrepreneurs of this industry while shining a bright light on the best of what we do and how we do it,” says Fogarty, who is also a 1999 Leadership award winner.

Code’s editorial talents earned GIE Media “dozens of national awards for editorial excellence and expanded our business influence beyond a business-to-business magazine by launching innovative print and digital products, including the first-ever website to serve the professional landscape industry, custom news apps and powerful face-to-face business events,” Foster says.

Looking back on a career spent advocating for the industry, Code says she feels grateful for the many colleagues and friends she’s met along the way.

“I’ve interviewed and become friends with so many of the people in this industry. I’ve seen the blood, sweat and tears they’ve put into their businesses,” she says. “It has been empowering and a privilege to get to help them tell their stories.”

The author is a freelancer based in Kentucky.