When members of RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) gathered for their annual meeting in September, they had a major milestone to celebrate: 25 years of successfully defending specialty pesticides.
That’s significant for industry professionals serving a number of specialty markets.
“Our job is to make sure the chemistry and the tools in their toolbox are always there for them to use,” said Aaron Hobbs, president of RISE.
RISE helps shape the regulatory playing field so “there are more options and more freedom for the pest control operator and green industry professional to make decisions that are best for particular pest conditions,” explained Josh Weeks, who led Bayer CropScience’s North American professional products division and also was the association’s governing board chair. It would be very hard for them to do their jobs if they didn’t have that toolbox, Weeks noted.
Preserving tools and use patterns so industry professionals can deliver value to customers “is the center of what RISE brings to the table,” added Dave Morris, former global business leader for Dow AgroSciences and RISE governing board chair. The association does this at the local, state and federal levels of government.
While groups like the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) represent users of specialty pesticides, RISE advocates on behalf of 220 manufacturers, formulators and distributors of these products, which are used in structural pest control and lawn care, but also nursery and greenhouse use, aquatic weed control, vector mosquito control, forestry and consumer markets.
“We are unmatched in our ability to have a positive influence on public policy; there is no one that does the work that we do” or has made the long-term investments in community building, said Hobbs.
Strong partnerships play a key role.
Over the years, RISE and NPMA have “accomplished a lot because we were able to work together,” said NPMA CEO Bob Rosenberg. RISE is NPMA’s “closest ally in Washington” and the two groups hold a weekly call to coordinate efforts; on the rare occasion they don’t agree on an issue, they “respect each other’s charges,” said Rosenberg.
“It’s been a great relationship” with NPMA and is one that’s “vital to our continued ability to be successful,” said Hobbs. In October, RISE will host its third breakfast at NPMA’s annual PestWorld conference to build member unity and thank PMPs for their grassroots support.
Working with groups like NPMA, GCSAA and NALP, RISE has built a stronger industry. Most notable is getting state pesticide preemption laws passed in 41 states in the late 1990s. These laws established FIFRA, which regulates the industry at the federal level, as the law of the land and made state regulatory agencies the rule makers at the state level. This prevents local governments from passing their own pesticide regulations on private property.
Preemption gives industry professionals certainty. If every locale could set its own rules on pesticide use, it’d be “total chaos” from a business operations perspective, said Morris. With anti-pesticide groups constantly trying to erode preemption, the issue will be a major focus of RISE going forward, said Hobbs.
Even the pollinator issue isn’t just about pollinators. It “generally is being used as a tool to attack preemption,” Hobbs noted.
Being proactive helps RISE take the lead on these and other issues.
It all stems from a fundamental shift in strategy eight years ago. Back then, RISE was more defensive; it relied mainly on traditional advocacy and responding to the activist agenda. RISE tracked issues and got involved once they were burning. “We were fire fighters,” explained Morris.
“RISE is a great place to do networking, to gain a different experience and some broader perspective” on issues, said Dan Stahl, current governing board chair of RISE and vice president of marketing and business development at OHP Inc. He encouraged professionals to get involved and to give back. “You can’t underestimate the importance of the volunteer workforce that we’re able to employ effectively within the RISE association,” he said.
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Today, the association is “involved early in the conversation” so it can “build up good will” for how specialty products solve problems and for the local professionals who apply them, said Dan Stahl, RISE governing board chair and vice president of marketing and business development at OHP Inc.
RISE has become “much more flexible and nimble in our work,” explained Hobbs. It uses social media to track hot topics in real time, pinpoint the localities where they’re heating up, and identify where not to get involved — where doing so will only lend credibility to anti-pesticide efforts.
The association has developed an extensive grassroots network, which lets it “quickly reach out and ask for help if we’ve got a local issue or state issue,” said Stahl. This empowers volunteers — “really smart, passionate people in the industry” — to advocate for their business and the industry, he said. These messages are received much better from local business people than folks from Washington, D.C. “That local voice with a positive message makes a huge difference,” said Morris.
Plus, it lets RISE be more visible in more places. Earlier this year, 450 local pest and lawn management professionals attended two meetings in Montgomery County, Md., to oppose a proposed ban on turf pesticides for private property. Not many associations can claim to have achieved that level of grassroots support, said Hobbs.
As such, the association has forced environmental activists in Maryland to “work very hard these past two years,” said Hobbs. In Connecticut, grassroots efforts helped RISE defeat legislation for five straight years, he noted.
No surprise, it is one of the four pillars of RISE’s new strategic plan. “If there’s been one game-changer for this association, it’s the addition of grassroots to our tool box,” said Hobbs.
The national, state and regional scope of RISE provides immeasurable support, said Terry Higgins, general manager at OHP, whose company specializes in products for the nursery and greenhouse production market.
“You can’t put a price on the value of a group like RISE. Being based in D.C., they can look out for our industry’s needs on a national level, but they’re just as effective when it comes to local challenges,” Higgins said. “RISE is able to cut through the noise of an issue and promote the benefits our products provide society.”
RISE provides impartial support, no matter the chemical specialty of the company they represent, said Arden Bull, national greenhouse/nursery accounts manager at Nufarm.
“All of the chemical companies are on a level playing field when it comes to working with RISE,” he said. “They’re an advocate to our industry, and they do a superb job of addressing the public when it comes to the safety and necessity of our products. They use scientific reasoning to address the products being used and being introduced in the marketplace.”
Still, challenges will continue.
Issues like pollinators and clean water rules, especially on local levels, will remain hot topics. “It would be silly to expect that those people that want to put our industry out of business are just going to fold up their tents and go home,” said Hobbs. “We will continue to be in those conversations wherever they may happen.”
The decidedly green attitudes of Millennials, who now make up the largest share of the U.S. workforce, will influence these issues, said Weeks. So will pressures from abroad. Montgomery County’s proposed legislation “is right out the Canadian playbook, and a bit out of the European playbook,” said Weeks. What happens in those countries is a “harbinger of future trends,” he said.
“We fill our space perfectly today and we’re doing an outstanding job representing our members and supporting our customers,” said Hobbs. “But we need to grow to address those challenges in the future.”
To do this, RISE is expanding its staff to six professionals by year end, is re-evaluating its brand, and creating more opportunities for member engagement. The more people engaged, the greater the voice, the bigger reach, Hobbs explained. This also will help the association “assimilate future leaders and participants” as senior Baby Boomer leaders phase out, said Weeks. “A constant education process” is required to bring them up to speed on “the history (of RISE) and the importance of advocacy,” he said.
Today the specialty products industry is mature — when RISE was founded in 1991 it was just emerging — and that brings additional considerations. “When you’re a mature industry, there’s always the concern for resources,” and as the business climate changes opportunities may open up for some products and markets but not for others, said Karen Reardon, vice-president, public affairs, RISE.
That makes preserving industry unity job number one.
It might appear that an issue affects only one segment of the specialty products industry but “we know that is a very short-term view of the challenge,” said Hobbs. The anti-pesticide lobby doesn’t dislike one use pattern over another, “they dislike them all,” he reminded. These groups constantly look for chinks in the armor. One year a bill may target the golf industry; the next year the same bill may have structural pest control in the cross-hairs.
“By having the industry unified, speaking for the most part with one voice about the safety and appropriateness of the development, supply and use of products, has meant everything to the continued success of the industry,” said Allen James, former president of RISE (now retired). Because of this, the association is respected at federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and at state and local levels, he said.
“We are very successful in the work that we do due to the great investment that our members make in the association, the support that they give us,” which allows RISE to be flexible and innovative, said Hobbs.
There is no issue too big or too significant that RISE can’t influence, he noted.
Working with “very smart, thoughtful leaders” — some who’ve been involved since RISE’s founding — makes for “an exciting time” and will help RISE prepare for what lies ahead, Hobbs said.
To view a full timeline of RISE’s history visit: www.giemedia.com/RISE.html
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