Turf Magazine - August, 2014

FEATURES

Audacious Goals

Project EverGreen's Presence grows one project at a time.
By Giles Lambertson

Project EverGreen and the green industry are partners in the work of beautifying America and restoring and enhancing green spaces in our bustling, paved urban environments.

"We want all communities to benefit from revitalized green spaces so that children and adults of all ages are encouraged to get outside and interact with each other in neighborhoods and communities. Green spaces make this happen," says Project EverGreen President Bill Vogel.

Cindy Code, who now serves as the organization's executive director, teamed with longtime industry participants Tom Delaney, Den Gardner, Dale Amstutz, Phil Fogarty and Paul McDonough to found the organization in 2003.

Through Project EverGreen they audaciously envisioned a national organization to put green spaces front and center in community planning and policy-making. Audacious? For a national effort, you bet. They started with the $50,000 that the Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA) provided from its Research & Education Foundation.

$50,000 to start a national campaign? That was a bold, bold move.

Even though PLCAA merged with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America to form the Professional Landcare Association (PLANET), Project EverGreen remained active, even with its modest budget The merging of the two national organizations did not affect the mission of Project EverGreen a whit. Even 11 years after its founding, Project EverGreen remains committed "to preserving and enhancing green spaces in our communities where we live, work and play."

Vogel, CEO of Wisconsin-based Spring Valley, got involved six years ago. His firm provided fertilizers for more than 20 sports fields in Milwaukee. Vogel subsequently moved onto the Project EverGreen executive committee. He considers his involvement "a wonderful opportunity to help promote all that is good about green spaces."

Industry support

To this point, industry manufacturers, suppliers, allied associations and private land care companies have funded the organization's growth and outreach. Just three years after its founding, Project EverGreen launched the GreenCare for Troops, and several years later, its SnowCare for Troops, and began attracting national positive attention.

The Toro Company is the primary sponsor for GreenCare for Troops while BOSS SnowPlow is the underwriter for the SnowCare for Troops outreach. The programs pair landscape and lawn care professionals with families of deployed armed forces members. Initiated by one professional contractor who helped local military families, today several thousand military families are in the Project EverGreen database along with several thousand volunteering professional contractors who generously provide their services free of charge.

The green work is voluntarily performed by contractors for the duration of a deployment and sometimes afterwards during a recovery period.

This assistance for families of armed service personnel was profiled on the NBC Nightly News and was one of just 20 national programs recognized in a White House ceremony. It might be expanded to look after properties of families of disabled troops.

Phil Fogarty, a Project EverGreen advisory council member, sees raising the profile of these various programs as a way to overcome media indifference toward or miscommunication about green spaces.

"The main motivator for me stemmed from interaction with media folks, politicians and environmental activists who expressed incredible misunderstanding about the value proposition of having green spaces," says Fogarty, a longtime lawn care company owner and Weed Man franchisor.

"I thought I have to get involved to help balance the messages out there that exist only to make headlines or get votes," he adds.

Greening the urban environment

To "move the needle" of public awareness, Project EverGreen sponsors green space service projects in urban areas. They range from landscaping a North Carolina middle school grounds to restoring a Toronto park trampled by protestors to replacing a dozen London plane trees lost to Hurricane Sandy at the 9/11 Memorial Grove on Liberty Island, almost in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

Each project features donated materials, professional supervision and volunteer labor.

The projects are diverse - sports fields, therapeutic gardens, cemetery entrances - but are linked by their common appeal to the senses. They create visual beauty for beauty's sake, cooling shade in hot urban environments promote stress-reduction and play in outdoor settings. And they boost the world's oxygen content.

"Planting a rain forest in your own backyard is just as important and crucial to our planet's balance as supporting rain forests themselves," Fogarty says of the environmental impact. "Not that we shouldn't support rain forests. But the world needs green spaces in downtown Cleveland as much as it needs the Amazon forests."

Michael Dauer, Project EverGreen's secretary-treasurer, is a big fan of the service projects that create places "where people can just sit and enjoy Mother Nature." But Dauer, who has been marketing in the industry for almost three decades, says well-meaning local lawmakers and regulators sometimes resist such projects for fear of chemical pollution.

"We are trying to let people know that we are good for Mother Nature, that we are helping Mother Nature do what she does best. And it is all done very professionally," Dauer says.

The more community service work Project EverGreen undertakes, the greater the volume of favorable publicity for the organization. It follows that proliferating community service jobs is a key to making Project EverGreen self-perpetuating. Two or three projects a year are accomplished now, but project leaders hope to double that.

Support needed

Yet, the organization is limited in how many projects it can undertake, principally because of funding, Code says. Acknowledging the generous donations and volunteer work by supporters to date, the executive director says, "We can't rely on pro bono work forever. There is no lack of projects out there, but there is a lack of resources at this point."

Replanting the memorial grove on Liberty Island, for example, was a $60,000 undertaking, all of which was anted up by green industry contractors, suppliers and distributors. Donations for a similar beautification project on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., totaled $25,000. Recognizing that such largesse may dry up at some point, Project EverGreen leadership completed a strategic planning process 18 months ago.

"We transformed the way we raised funds for our green space projects," Vogel says. "Project EverGreen has grown primarily through funding from corporations within the green industry, but to grow more quickly we knew we needed to diversify our funding model."

Consequently, the organization is moving from being completely funded by industry members to becoming as least partly funded through grants, foundations, consumers and green industry associations and service companies. Code says the three- to five-year goal is for total annual funding to reach $1 million.

By comparison, "Got Milk?" the dairy industry's seemingly ubiquitous advertising campaign (It ran from October 1993 to February 2014), was a $30 million to $40 million effort sponsored by the California Milk Processor Board. To swell Project EverGreen coffers to such levels, the organization will have to drum up broader financial support from industry members. Fogarty estimates that no more than 5 percent of lawn care and landscape industry professionals are contributing to the cause.

"We have loyal supporters and we work with all the industry associations who have individual members. But if we had a small amount contributed by each company in the industry, we could move the needle nationally," he says. "Still, we are doing an amazing number of things."

One of Project EverGreen's goals (and biggest challenges) is to build its awareness and its support from coast to coast. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, nearly all of its community service projects are undertaken in states ranging from the upper Midwest (Ohio and Wisconsin) and contiguous Canadian provinces down through the Atlantic Seaboard states. Just one project - in San Antonio, Texas - occurred outside the region.

Spreading nationally

"Our programs are all national," Vogel insists, "including GreenCare for Troops, SnowCare for Troops, and the K-through-12 Art of Green Spaces poster contest. As we increase our funding, we will do more projects." In anticipation of such expansion, the organization is at this moment in planning discussions with landscape industry executives in Los Angeles, California.

Vogel also notes that the organization has initialed a five-year agreement with the National Park Service "in which we are recognized as a reputable provider of services to revitalize green spaces." With parks situated from coast to coast, the agreement bodes well for Project EverGreen involvement in projects in western locales.

Other national initiatives include one dubbed "Healthy Turf. Healthy Kids." It emphasizes safe outdoor playing environments for children and promotes community and family involvement in creating and maintaining green play spaces. A national media campaign - to be funded by a suggested dollar-a-day level of contributions by industry firms - is to be introduced extolling green spaces and acknowledging the industry professionals that create the spaces.

Accolades for the organization's work are readily forthcoming. "Great downtowns have world-class public green spaces" is how San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro described Project EverGreen's work to reinvigorate two of the city's downtown spaces.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, a Project EverGreen project created a green area on a campus of Haven House Services, a nonprofit that gives vulnerable children a new start. The program coordinator, Sherita Young, says Haven House now has "a quiet place for our young people to meditate on benches surrounded by beautiful flowers, to collect their thoughts. It is a treasure for the population we serve."

Such testimonials are music to the ears of Project EverGreen supporters, whose evident passion for green outdoor areas is as much about human responses as it is leafy plants and shady lawns.

"You don't measure success by the number of programs or projects, but by the end result of them," insists Code.

So, ultimate success for Project EverGreen rests with growing the number of "treasured" projects to increase the human benefit. Fogarty looks down the road 10 years and sees the organization unchanged except for operating on a bigger scale. "We need to be doing what we are doing now and doing more of it."

Giles Lambertson is an experienced business writer who enjoys researching and sharing compelling stories on the green industry. He lives and works in Winchester, Kansas. Comment on this article or contact Giles at gparkerel@gmail.com.