Many in the industry see themselves as stewards of the environment and work to find ways to be more sustainable businesses. Being more sustainable is a broad concept, but also means there are multiple opportunities to take advantage of.
“I think trying to become more sustainable can be discouraging for some businesses — more specifically, it can be overwhelming,” says Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, based in Portland, Oregon. “But staying ahead of the curve is important. Ease into it instead of trying to do it all at once. Start with water conservation or evaluate your chemical usage and see where you can make changes to lower toxic products or reductions in use. Consider converting to propane or experimenting with battery-operated equipment. People need to wade in and try new things. If you try to do it all at once, it’s too much.”
Below are some of the different sustainability methods other landscape companies have implemented.
Switch to Battery Power
Serpico, based in Hayward, California, has committed to shifting 100 percent hybrid-electric powered landscape maintenance by 2028. The company has been testing out battery-powered equipment since 2016.
Serpico determined what the numbers, more than financial, would have to look like, in order to fully outfit a commercial/HOA maintenance crew at minimal-to-zero productivity impact. They picked routes that best represented the daily work they do, and would test battery equipment on these routes.
“We figured out that we needed to get through, at minimum, three-quarters of a full day,” says Peter Novak, president and CEO of Serpico. “If we could accomplish 75 percent of our normal landscape maintenance services for that particular route on any given day, we knew that with this truck and the generator that’s in the back of it, that we could do on-road charging and then we could make up the remaining 25 percent of battery runtime, driving in between locations or driving to and from the yard rotations.”
As battery technology has improved, the company can go the whole day now with the battery equipment, and on-the-go charging is simply a safeguard.
Evaluate Chemical Usage
While chemicals are a useful tool in your toolbox, taking the time to dial in your cultural practices and conduct soil tests before applying materials like fertilizers and herbicides. Not only will this result in lower costs with less wasted product, but it will also reduce issues like runoff.
SeaScape Lawn Care in Coventry, Rhode Island, works to be as sustainable as possible with their traditional lawn care program by practicing targeted applications for weed control, cleaning up hardscapes after applications and using soil tests when necessary.
“From a material standpoint, we stopped using phosphorous on most lawns,” says Jim Wilkinson, president of SeaScape. “We will only use it when seeding — so we’ve eliminated around 95 percent of our phosphorus use.”
He says to ensure the products are applied properly they focus heavily on proper and safe application methods.
Implement Water Budgets
As many parts of the country struggle with drought, water conservation is top of mind. One way to ensure your company is irrigating properties correctly is by implementing water budgets.
When Gardenworks, Inc., based in Healdsburg, California, first started using water budgets they discovered they had been overwatering by 30 percent.
“We’re selling landscapes short when they’re mature,” says Peter Estournes, principal of Gardenworks. “We’re basically babying them in ways that maybe they don’t need.”
Rather than going to a property and immediately suggesting changing the plant palette and switching to drip irrigation, water budgets can help you get a clear picture of how much water is being used, and how much is necessary for the landscape to thrive. Estournes says landscapes on water budgets are healthier, have less pest problems and require less pruning.
“Our job is to water any project we take on as efficiently as possible to maintain the viability of the landscape,” Estournes says. “We’re not there to starve it and we’re not there to overwater. We’re there to dial it in. Selfishly, I use less resources on a well-managed and appropriately watered garden than if it’s not.”
Optimize Your Office Building
Sustainability practices don’t have to be limited to just the field. Sebert Landscape, based in Bartlett, Illinois, created a LEED Gold-Certified building, which has to meet stringent construction and energy-saving requirement.
“I have always been supportive of minimizing our consumption of energy,” says Jeff Sebert, CEO of Sebert. “It is probably the costliest of all our expenses. I have always admired the architectural and aesthetic design of these structures and agree with the idealism and compliance of the certification of Gold LEED.”
The 30,000-square-foot corporate office is twice the size of their old facilities but uses the same amount of electricity and natural gas. Their 15,000 square-foot garage, which houses their fleet, features solar panels that generate one-third of the electricity needed to power the corporate office.
A green roof helps reduce temperatures in the summer, while the placement of windows and exterior sunshades assist with distributing sunlight year-round. The landscaping around the facility also helps collect and filter runoff.
“Sustainability is progressive and contagious,” Sebert says. “As our business has grown tremendously so has our commitment. The idealism of our staff is aligned with how and what can we do better? We have always stood behind our commitment and our green initiative and each year we find new and better ways of achieving our goals.”