Going green. Eco-friendly practices. Organics. Battery-powered equipment. Water conservation. Permeable pavers. Planting natives. As many areas battle extremes like drought, wildfire, record heat, excessive stormwater, coastal erosion, and more, there’s a lot of discussion these days about the role of landscaping as it relates to environmental challenges. Is the industry helping or harming the ecosystems in which it operates? Is there client demand for more sustainable landscaping practices? And how green is green? There are no easy answers, so Turf turned to landscaping professionals who are adopting new practices and equipment to gauge their experiences.
Of course, “going green” is by no means easy. Terren Landscapes in Wynnewood, PA, has long offered eco-friendly alternatives to traditional landscaping and even has a section of their business devoted to it. But marketing manager John Lipartito says that despite the uptick in requests for sustainable landscaping services the company has seen in recent years, it still remains a small portion of the overall market in their area. However, Lipartito says it’s poised to grow.
“We expect the segment to keep growing and we do think people will switch more readily once the costs come down,” he admits. “But as of right now, people who are okay with noise and emissions seem to just be sticking with what they’re used to.”
Still, that won’t stop the company’s dedication. As a forward-thinking company, Terren Landscapes hopped on battery power as soon as it became feasible. They continue to be motivated by their own focus on protecting the environment now and into the future. While Lipartito says eco-friendly landscaping can be profitable, customers must be willing to pay for the additional labor hours needed to complete work using lower-output, battery-powered equipment. The same goes for their organic turf care and weed control program, which have a higher material cost.
Utopian Landscapes, LLC in Harrisburg, PA is in a similar boat. Some of the eco-friendly initiatives the company has in place include the use of battery-powered blowers, on-site gasoline (to prevent extra trips), honeybee hives at the headquarters, low-voltage lighting, use of native and drought-tolerant plants, and eco-friendly practices like mowing higher. Terra Phelps, company owner, says Utopian adopted these practices out of a sense of urgency. She wanted to be able to be proud of the work they do—but she agrees it hasn’t been easy.
“Customers aren’t demanding it yet,” she says. “I think doing the right thing is always profitable in the end—but it might take time for it to pay off. I do think it can be an element that might make some clients choose our company over another. And if nothing else, it’s a win for the environment.”
Phelps says that cost and reluctance to change are two aspects that may be keeping other landscape professionals from adopting green practices. She says battery-powered commercial mowers can be significantly more expensive, and right now, there’s an overall lack of options. “There’s probably a little bit of fear of the unknown, as well,” she adds. “We are all creatures of habit, and change is scary.”
However, there are still plenty of professional landscaping companies across the country that are leading the charge in adopting new green technologies and services. Let’s look at a few key areas where exciting changes are being made.
Among the eco-friendly possibilities emerging in the past few years, robotic mowers make an excellent choice for customers who don’t want or need a full fleet driving out to their property each week. Besides eliminating gas emissions from the mowers themselves—on-site robotics eliminate the fuel needed for trucks hauling mowers to different sites.
Blanchford Landscape Group in Bozeman, MT has introduced robotic mowing as a service option for their clients. Unlike traditional mowing, the robotic mower “lives” at clients’ homes and comes out daily to cut the grass. Owner Andy Blanchford says many of their clients feel a commitment to preserving the natural beauty of the area and can appreciate the eco-friendly nature of robotic mowing. On top of that, they like some of the added benefits that come with this service.
“Mowing daily and making small cuts each time is much more beneficial to the health of the lawn than weekly mowing,” Blanchford says. “There’s also a cool factor to robotic mowing as it’s something that is still so brand-new. Many of our clients like having access to an advanced option that many other landscapers aren’t yet offering.”
Blanchford adds that many of their clients’ properties can also be difficult to access. Those that live in more remote parts of Montana don’t always live on the most accessible roads. Plus, many Blanchford clients value their privacy—and come to their Montana home for seclusion and immersion in nature. Having a mowing fleet rolling in once a week takes away from that serenity. But a robotic mower that lives on-site gives them the best of all worlds.
Smart irrigation is another great example of how technology is making landscaping more eco-friendly. Today’s smart irrigation helps ensure that just the right amount of water is used and that local weather conditions and rainfall are accounted for when determining a property’s watering needs.
Judith Carney, President of Clear Water PSI, an irrigation contractor in Casselberry, FL, says she was pushing smart irrigation long before it was popular and has seen the technology continue to evolve over the years. Today’s systems predominantly use ET (evapotranspiration) scheduling to help save water, Carney says. ET is the sum of evaporation and transpiration and assists in determining exactly how much water plants will need each day. “Irrigation systems that take into account the ET schedule as well as local weather data help to prevent wasted water,” Carney explains. “There’s nothing worse than seeing an irrigation system kick on in the middle of a rainstorm.”
Permeable paver installation is also on the rise in many areas—particularly in regions that have adopted local requirements related to stormwater runoff—since these pavers allow filtration. This is the case for Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape in Alexandria, VA. Owner Krisjan Berzins has seen increased interest in permeable pavers as a result of more rules and regulations surrounding impervious surfaces. He says it’s important that landscapers understand these are not installed the same way as traditional pavers.
“The pavers themselves are one part of a total system, which includes a properly installed base using crushed stone that makes the system permeable,” he explains. “Unfortunately, we have seen permeable paver systems fail that were improperly installed. It’s important to get the proper training for this service. We were trained and certified by the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI) in permeable paver installation.”
While permeable pavers usually cost roughly 15% to 20% more, Berzins says most clients understand and appreciate the benefits. Water drainage issues are a common concern and beyond eco-friendliness, clients appreciate that permeable pavers often eliminate the potential hassles and headaches of excessive water and pooling. “Clients with yard drainage issues understand that this is a solution,” Berzins adds. “Often, they’d have to invest in a different stormwater drainage solution if they aren’t going to choose permeable pavers.”
A Brighter—And Greener—Future
Robotic mowers, smart irrigation, and permeable pavers are just some of many different ways that landscape companies are going green. And in some cases, it’s not necessarily environmental concerns driving the change, but because the green option offers the client a practical solution to a problem. Many landscapers adopting some of these greener practices are hopeful more will follow suit. Utopian’s Phelps says that instead of thinking the industry must change everything at once, even small steps toward change could have a big impact. She sums it up simply: “If we can approach this from a less daunting angle, we can all do a small part to help make the Green Industry a little greener.”
Getz is an award-winning freelance writer based in Royersford, PA.
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