We hear about it all the time. Green products, green services, recycle, save energy, reduce emissions, good for the planet. We are constantly bombarded by so many “green” messages that it has almost lost its meaning. What does it really mean to be green, and more importantly, does anyone really care?
Nowhere does being green, or more correctly, sustainable, have greater importance and relevance than in those individuals responsible for creating, maintaining and promoting green spaces in our society, America’s Green Industry.
Last year, I had the pleasure of working with a group of industry professionals in drafting the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) Crystal Ball Report on sustainability. Most recently, during the 2009 Green Industry Conference (GIC) held at the Green Industry Equipment and Expo (GIE+EXPO), I had the opportunity to sit down with more than 40 landscapers and discuss their take on sustainability and what they thought it meant to their business. What I discovered from these two experiences should come as no surprise. Everyone was interested in improving operations and lessening their impact on the environment. However, the challenge was balancing this with the need to run a profitable business.
The Three P’s of Sustainability
So what is sustainability? The 2009 PLANET Crystal Ball Report encompassed the hard work of more than 24 Green Industry representatives who discussed, studied and presented information concerning environmental issues—and what they mean to the business.
Using a wealth of resources including the Sustainable Sites Initiative, EPA guidelines and the Green Gauge Report, as well as personal experiences, the group sought to provide a clear definition of sustainability and, thus, identify recommendations for the industry to follow.
The definition agreed upon was that sustainability meant conducting operations and using resources in such a way that the present needs were met, while not reducing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In short, it came down to three points:
- Planet (taking care of the environment)
- People (caring for employees and ensuring their health, safety and well-being)
- Profit, (ensuring that businesses enjoyed a healthy, long-term bottom line)
Does Anyone Care?
Despite all the press dedicated to going green, the committee found that a low percentage of the population is actually willing to make significant changes in their lifestyle and pay a great deal more in order to be “green.”
Using data from the 2007 GfK Roper Green Gauge report, it appeared that only about 40% of the population surveyed would actually be willing to make some changes in their lifestyles, including paying more, while 60% would either buy green if it fit their specific need or were not interested at all.
These results coincide with a September 2009 article that appeared in Nation’s Building News. The article reported that only 11% of builders nationwide indicated that their customers ask about environmentally friendly features, and among buyers who are willing to pay more for green features, more than half (57%) are unlikely to pay more than an additional 2%.
Why Do It?
If the support for green is less than impressive, why should the industry embrace it? Landscapers at the GIC cited several reasons for pursuing a sustainable approach to their work. The first is regulation. While regulation seems self-explanatory, it was interesting to note that there appeared to be different levels of awareness when it came to existing or pending regulations and legislation that could seriously impact the Green Industry.
Some contractors appear to be deeply involved in issues such as water usage, pesticide restrictions and bans on power equipment like leaf blowers, while others appeared to be hearing about one or more of them for the first time. Tapping into resources provided by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) and PLANET to get the latest information and guidance is critical. PLANET, for instance, has a legislative tool kit available that helps contractors stay aware of the latest developments and provides resources to help them protect their interests.