Leading the Environmental Movement

June 23, 2008
Written by Brian Minter
As potential leaders in the world of green, individually our garden centre industry has yet to play a key role in going green. We all do bits and pieces but as an overall industry we are being overtaken by the likes of Wal-Mart going organic and Home Depot becoming a chemical pesticide-free company. 

For a successful future, we must be seen as leaders in supporting this movement to be more environmentally conscious and friendly. We also need to nurture our customers in the most effective ways to go green. Before we embark on that important crusade, however, we must ourselves be moving in that direction.

The big picture is one of sustainability. In the face of rising energy prices, upward spiralling costs of everything made from oil and the need to conserve water, are our businesses sustainable? Everything from our location, style of building, energy systems, waste disposal, pesticide use, watering methods, product lines to our overall efficiency needs to be carefully examined. Any one of these areas can cause a huge skew in our operations if we don’t examine it thoroughly. Planning for future sustainability should be an ongoing process.

The way in which we operate our businesses is also a keystone going forward. Do we have and actually follow through on recycling programs? Are all our garbage cans labelled compost, garbage and recycling? Are the massive amounts of plastics that we use collected and sent to recycling depots? Do we accept plastics our customers want to return? Do we have bins where customers can pick up or return plastic pots? This type of leadership is noticed by our customers and appreciated more than you may think. It can also cut our waste disposal costs.

When I was in China last year, cardboard was so in demand thousands of citizens were collecting it and selling it for recycling. Do we recycle all our cardboard and can it be a source of income?
The number of old and damaged plants that we all dispose of is significant.  Are we composting even on a small scale? Most cities are becoming very environmentally conscious and tying into programs with compost pickup would be brilliant.

Energy costs are huge today and are going to become far worse. Apart from insulation and redesign, converting to LED and low energy lights and using simple timers for lights are easy solutions that save both energy and significant dollars.

On an international conference call with the Garden Writers’ Association, the Scott’s representative indicated that the switch to organic gardening will only happen in a significant fashion when the cost and effectiveness of organics come closer to their chemical alternatives. Well, Scott’s is not only the largest lawn and garden care company in North America but now they are also the largest organic lawn and garden company. Two years ago only 10 per cent of American and British gardens were organic with another 10 per cent ready to switch. I expect that number is far greater today and growing quickly. We need to have well-priced, effective organic alternatives for all our gardening needs, and we must be able to communicate to our customers how to use them.

When I asked two of our major pot suppliers last winter for plastic pot alternatives, I really caught them off guard. Rice, bamboo and other biodegradable alternatives are on the way but they need to be in the price range and sizes of plastic types and offer equivalent efficiency. The prices for oil-based plastic pots will soon match the price situation and for 2009 I expect to see a significant changeover. To growers who used plastic alternatives this year, congratulations – consumers loved them.

With warmer summer weather, water restrictions are a reality. Our customers need great-looking but drought-tolerant plants. These plants are available but do we carry and promote them? There are also so many effective ways to consume, save less water and use less water. Are we aware of all these opportunities and are we communicating them to our consumers?  From “safe” water retaining soil additives to drip systems and soaker hoses, we can truly help our customers have a great-looking yard and use far less water. Garden design and plant location can also make a huge difference. 

In today’s changing environment, we will lose our green positioning very quickly if we don’t move immediately. In our green world, we can offer almost everything folks need for a better lifestyle including home food production, esthetic beauty, shade tree cooling and a sense of well-being.  As an industry, we need to be their guide and mentor on how to fulfill these goals in an environmentally friendly and sensitive way.

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