Optimistically green

There’s plenty contractors can do to lessen their environmental footprint and embrace sustainability.

Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, says goats make for a great, environmentally friendly solution to weed control.
Photo courtesy of Bob Grover

Sustainability is a movement, and one that’s not slowing down anytime soon, according to Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management in Portland, Oregon.

He says it’s about striking a balance between social, economic and environmental decisions rather than being 100% organic. He defines sustainable landscaping as “low-impact, low-maintenance, low-resource-use practices that are adapted to a particular site and its climate.”

Grover recently gave a presentation titled “Grow Your Business with Sustainable Services” during the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ LANDSCAPES 2020 virtual event in October.

“Landscapers are the most sustainable part of a development,” Grover says. “If you look at the statistics, one tree or 50-foot-by-50-foot area of turf can remove 26 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually.”

Grover says the sustainability movement really took off about 15 years ago, adding that landscapers can sometimes get a bad rap for not being eco-friendly.

“There’s been a great focus over the last couple of decades on the importance of saving the Earth,” he says. “But some of the things we do put a real big bullseye on our chest.”

Those things include misuse of lawn chemicals, wasting water, allowing fertilizer to leech into stream systems and air pollution.

“Let’s not have a lot of despair, but let’s have hope,” he says. “That’s where sustainability comes in. It’s important to understand as a balance… and we need to find a balance between doing the right things for the environment and having it be affordable and acceptable to our clients.”

Grover shared what Pacific Landscape Management has been doing over the years to be more sustainable and the list included: incorporating organics into fertilizers, reducing herbicide use, promoting new irrigation technology and converting to low-emission equipment.

A greener approach.

Grover acknowledges that his company is not 100% organic and still uses some chemicals and fertilizers.

“Organic is wonderful, but organic is very inefficient,” he says. “You’ll have to put down twice as much or three times as much fertilizer.”

But when it comes to weed control, Grover says there is another all-natural solution that’s fun and effective – goats.

“Goats are actually a great weed control methodology,” he says. “It’s very intriguing…the goats are cute and it’s amazing what they can do. It’s quite effective.”

There are a handful of goat vendors in Oregon that will provide the goats, fence them in and monitor them so they can chew down weeds such as blackberry brambles. He adds that the clients enjoy watching the goats, too.

Be smart about water.

Another popular element of sustainability is water conservation. In fact, Grover says it’s the easiest to sell clients on as it has some return on investment.

“There’s a lot we can do with water conservation,” he says. “Water is money. Water rates are rising, at least in the Northwest, and water is the fastest rising utility.”

Grover suggests moving to weather-based irrigation controllers, which adjust the watering schedule based on weather conditions.

Pacific Landscape Management made the switch to installing weather-based systems about 10 years ago and Grover says they’re typically saving 20 to 40% in water usage.

The company also provides detailed water conservation plans that incorporate an irrigation system map, upgrading components, improving coverage, drip irrigation, hydrozoning and lawn conversion.

Grover says Pacific Landscape Management has been prioritizing sustainability for nearly two decades.
Photo courtesy of Bob Grover

Equipment alternatives.

For Grover, lowering engine emissions has been tough at times.

Grover says that keeping your fleet updated with the latest equipment can be a good start, as new equipment is more in line with government regulations.

And for Pacific Landscape Management, that means adding some battery-powered equipment despite their limitations.

“You have to replace the battery, you can’t just fill up the gas tank,” Grover notes of electric equipment. “They don’t have the same force, they don’t have the same run-time, they are quieter, but they cost about three-times as much.”

Down the road, Grover says he expects to see even more companies making the switch.

“We believe that this is going to take over,” he says. “The technology has come a long way in 10 years. And we really believe that 10 years from now we won’t really see small, gas engine equipment anymore.”

Grover says robotic mowers have also made quite an impact on the green industry. He thinks this trend is also here to stay.

“I believe in a few years, we’ll start to see more and more of our wide-open mowing done by robotic mowers,” he says. “And all of these mowers are electric powered.”

A little goes a long way.

Even with all these measures, Grover says sustainability can be difficult to accomplish if clients aren’t willing to pay for it.

“We quickly figured out people want to provide a sustainable service, or they want to buy a sustainable service…but nobody is really interested to pay a whole lot more for it,” he says.

Grover says more companies should get on board with sustainability regardless of geographic location.

“Don’t fear the sustainability movement,” he says. “It is coming to everywhere…you don’t want to have sustainability chasing you, you want to be chasing sustainability.”

December 2020
Explore the December 2020 Issue

Check out more from this issue and find you next story to read.