SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Bruce K. Wilson has announced that landscape industry executive Pam Stark has joined his consulting team. Stark, a 40-year veteran of the green industry, is a professionally trained horticulturist and former senior vice president of ValleyCrest Companies.
LAKE BLUFF, Ill. – Mariani, a landscape maintenance and design firm specializing in residential and commercial design, installation and maintenance services, has announced that it has won the Community Service Award distinction in the 22nd annual Illinois Family Business of the Year Awards courtesy of the Family Business Center at Loyola University Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business. The award recognizes exceptional Illinois-based family businesses that exemplify a strong commitment to business development, family and the greater community.
According to a 2014 Nielsen survey, 42 percent of North Americans are willing to spend more for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact. That’s up from 35 percent in 2011.
And it’s becoming the wave of the future. More than half of those willing to pay extra for sustainable products worldwide are Millennials (those ages 18 to 34).
Alec McClennan, founder of Good Nature Organic Lawn Care in Cleveland, says he has noticed that increased interest in sustainable practices over the past few years. “There’s a whole range of services being offered out there that range in degrees of sustainability and so one tip I have would be to be clear about what you’re doing for people,” he says. “I think it’s starting to become in people’s consciousness that what they do in their yard can have an effect.”
Talking it out with the customer is important for McClennan who says the best way to think about starting a sustainable program is to simply ask customers what they want. “Just ask,” he says. “You might be surprised at how many people are interested.”
McClennan says sometimes lawn and landscape professionals shy away from sustainable offerings because they’re afraid to imply that their current program isn’t the right way to do things, but it’s about giving the customers what they want. “I don’t think that anyone got into the green industry because they just love using chemicals,” he says. “It’s not what drew anyone to the green industry. It’s because you like working outside with plants and people.”
And McClennan says there isn’t any particular trick to finding customers who want a greener program. “It’s really the typical lawn care client,” he says. “It’s not that different of a lawn care market but they’re more environmentally aware, I would say.”
And while his sustainable program is a little more expensive than a traditional one, people are willing to pay to feel good about what they’re putting on their lawns, McClennan says.
Good Nature focuses on plant health, using good cultural practices to cut down on the amount of chemicals needed for a healthy lawn. Technicians use compost and compost tea to feed the soil naturally, cutting down on fertilizer applications, which helps reduce algae bloom in nearby Lake Erie.
The company also does a lot of overseeding and encourages a higher mowing height to crowd out annual weeds like crabgrass. He says about 20 percent of his customers use chemical applications to control weeds in their lawns.
“No two customers are exactly the same in terms of what they’re looking for,” he says.
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Lawn & Landscape magazine.
Many landscape contractors view integrated pest management (IPM) as a service option to a traditional lawn care and landscape maintenance programs, but Greg Frank sees it as the way his company does business.
“We’ve been in business for 50 years and I’d say we’ve been practicing IPM for 49 of those years,” says the vice president of Ted Collins Tree & Landscape, a $5 million firm headquartered in Victor, N.Y. “We subscribe to total plant health care, and IPM is one of the tools we use.”
IPM involves a series of educated evaluations that include setting thresholds, identifying and monitoring pest activity, employing preventive measures and controlling unmanageable pest outbreaks on turf, trees and ornamentals. IPM also requires a strict adherence to sound landscape principles, including using sharp blades when mowing turf, trimming branches with quality pruning sheers, integrating native plants into landscape designs, and properly watering and aerating turfgrass to stay ahead of opportunistic organisms. “We look to make the plant strong and healthy through practices such as proper mulching, pruning and maintaining nutrient levels,” Frank says. “By making a plant strong we do very little spraying. However, sometimes we do need a more aggressive approach.”
IPM can be a profitable service venture, with many landscape contractors marketing it as a premium service, somewhere in between a traditional program and a purely organic approach. As a result, many report profit margins of 40 percent or higher for their IPM service. But, as with any landscape service, IPM comes with advantages and challenges.
Lawn & Landscape examines some of the most common questions contractors face about their IPM programs and provides some perspective on why IPM may be a viable option for turf, tree and ornamental care.
Q. So you’ll be on site more, doing less and not spraying?
Yes, contractors practicing IPM are on site more, as many as two to three additional visits per season, depending on environmental conditions and pest stresses. But the contractor is doing more than just walking the property. In a successful IPM program, the contractor must examine the overall health of the turf, trees and ornamental plants on a client’s property. That inspection includes an assessment of weed infiltration and signs of pest and insect damage, as well as any other precursors to larger plant problems.
“Those contractors who practice IPM at a high level are very good biologists,” says Chuck Silcox, global product development manager, turf and ornamentals at DuPont Professional Products in Wilmington, Del. “They have a real knowledge of the plant species present on a property and the pests that frequently attack them.”
Depending on the client’s threshold levels – or the point when a pest infestation needs to be addressed or risk the overall health of the turf or plant – a contractor may take no action.
This perceived “lack of doing anything” is an educational issue and a shift in cultural practices that IPM contractors must overcome when introducing their program to clients. Complete Landscaping Service has successfully offered IPM to its clients in the Bowie, Md. market for nearly 30 years. Initially, though, its IPM program got off to a rocky start, says Susan Wallis, the company’s vice president, because clients don’t fully appreciate that IPM is a detail-oriented process. “Clients were accustomed to receiving blanket applications,” she says. “They felt they weren’t getting enough bang for their buck.
“Communication and education has eliminated those concerns and people have really gotten on board with the value of preserving green space,” Wallis adds.
In fact, Michael Cioffi, the IPM manager for Allendale, N.J.-based Borst Landscape, says his biggest detractors are his clients’ neighbors. “We field a lot of calls, mostly from new clients, who say their neighbor saw our truck in front of their yard, watched the technician walk the property and that they didn’t see him do anything,” he says.
Action with a traditional synthetic pesticide is a decision for the contractor and the client. For example, Phyllis Hodge, president of PH Lawn Care in Gloucester, Mass., says her clients’ preferences with IPM run the gamut of available options. Some request a program that utilizes only organic methods, such as soaps and oils, while other clients prefer synthetic pesticide products and others want no chemicals used whatsoever.
“We make recommendations, but it’s the client’s decision as to what type of pest-control products, if any, we’ll use,” Hodge says. “It’s our duty, though, to educate the client on the outcome of whatever course of action they choose to pursue, whether it’s chemical or nothing at all.”
Q. What’s my threshold?
It’s unnecessary to eradicate every weed and insect pest from a landscape. Instead, contractors work closely with clients to establish threshold levels, says Kyle Miller, senior technical specialist with BASF Tree and Ornamental Products, based at Research Triangle Park, N.C. Establishing these parameters requires a frank conversation between contractor and client about what they can expect with various threshold levels.
“It’s in the eye of the beholder and it reflects what the client’s expectations for how the property will look,” Miller says. “Let’s say it’s a commercial property. At what point or tolerance level will a pest or disease impact how people view his business? He may not need the property to be super-duper perfect, just a healthy landscape.”
For example, if a client chooses a 15 percent threshold then a pest has to exceed 15 percent infestation of an area of turf or other plant material before reactive measures are taken. Those measures may include a simple pruning of the infected area or as involved as using a narrow-spectrum pesticide to control a grub outbreak.
However, with IPM, treatment never completely eradicates a pest. “Most of our clients ask about pest control vs. eradication,” Wallis says. “Many people think when we treat for an insect or a disease, it means we completely remove the pest or disease from their environment. That’s not the case.”
Promising 100 percent control is an impossible expectation and goes against basic IPM principles of monitoring and control. “If someone wants zero bugs or zero damage, then we don’t take them on as customers,” Frank says.
Q. If you don’t find anything will I still get charged?
The challenge in marketing and selling IPM is to extract value from this service in the marketplace, contractors say. Often, clients have a difficult time finding value in the type of expertise an IPM program offers.
Frank begins the education process at the first client meeting. From that moment on he exposes clients with information on what’s happening on their property. “If we supply the client with good information then we have very few problems with them questioning our IPM program,” he says.
IPM programs tend to be more expensive than traditional programs. Much of that added cost stems from the increase in visits to the client’s site, an increase from five visits for a traditional chemical program to seven and as many as 12 visits throughout the season, contractors say. Frequency depends upon outbreaks and particular pest problems on the site.
“If a property has numerous plants that succumb to damage by pests, then they typically will require more visits and more monitoring, Wallis says. “So our IPM pricing is based on the estimated time required for a site inspection to be performed and an average treatment of 25 percent of the plant material on site. IPM is more labor intensive than turf services and requires specialized training, therefore it commands a higher price.”
Frank bases his IPM pricing on visiting a property at a minimum of once every four weeks. Prices are on a square-foot basis, but he takes into account the square footage of not only the landscape surface area – turf and beds – but also the square footage of the plants according to their volume. Prices are adjusted accordingly for ancillary IPM services such as mulching, fertilization and soil testing, he says.
Q. Are you going to use pesticides?
Sometimes the classical definition of IPM is misconstrued to mean no pesticides, Silcox says. “But pesticides have always been part of IPM,” he says.
Pesticides have a synergy with IPM because IPM requires identifying problems before taking action, says Mark Urbanowski, senior product manager at Dow AgroSciences in Indianapolis. “To me that’s fundamental IPM philosophy,” he says. “Look at what the issues are holistically and determine whether a pest is really an issue. Let’s look at the other environmental factors before I need to use a tool like a synthetic chemical.”
Often a pesticide is required to either prevent a pest from taking hold, or to stem back its advance, and the question whether to treat preventively or curatively depends on the pest. “You need to think about whether you can successfully choose a product that will control the pest that is exceeding threshold levels,” Silcox says. “At the same time, you need to choose a material that will have minimal impact to those beneficial organisms. To me, that’s an IPM approach.”
In some scenarios taking a preventive measure is a better alternative than a curative approach, says Urbanowski. “For example, to control crabgrass reactively is a far greater effort with the use of chemistry and requires a far more intensive program than if the contractor uses a preemergent to keep the weed from competing with the client’s turf,” he says. “With crabgrass there will always be a seed reserve that will be back the next year.”
It’s no different when applying IPM to tree and ornamental care, Miller says. “If your region has a history of particular pest problems, for example if your client’s roses get black spot, then you will need to take preventive measures to treat the problem effectively,” he says. “Or if your shrubs or other ornamental plants have recurring problems with Japanese beetles, then they will need a preventive treatment to avoid severe damage.”
Compared to turf, there is more opportunity to be reactive when treating trees and ornamental plants, Miller says. “If you notice the leaves are getting chewed up you can step back and ask yourself what’s the problem here, how can I stop the damage and what tools do I have at my disposal to stop the pests,” he says.
A pesticide is just another IPM tool, no different than a hand pruner, Cioffi says. “And if you use a tool properly in IPM the plant material will benefit from it,” he says.
This article was originally published in the December 2011 issue of Lawn & Landscape magazine.
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
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.
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
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."