Sustainable Commercial Landscaping and Lawn Care
Lawncare and landscaping businesses that are eco-friendly and practice sustainability are realizing real benefits including cost savings, new customers, and sales growth. Attracting new customers has become more complicated since consumers often consider how eco-friendly and green a business is before making a purchase decision. This article is a guide on how landscaping and/or lawn care businesses can become more environmentally friendly and reap the benefits of being a sustainable business.
Customers Are Demanding Sustainability
Now more than ever consumers are using their purchasing power to push companies to be more sustainable. Based on recent surveys, it is estimated that around 3 out of 4 consumers will direct their purchases to businesses that are environmentally sustainable. Commercial landscaping and lawn care businesses are not insulated from these new pressures from consumers. In fact, they are likely at a heightened risk exposure, based on the fact that the number of millennial homeowners is rapidly increasing, a group which cares more about sustainability than their baby boomer and gen-x predecessors. Now is the time for commercial and residential landscaping and lawn care companies to make the necessary changes in order to keep up with the demands of the next generation of consumers.
Going Green is Good for Business
The great thing about a shift to more sustainable practices is that it is actually beneficial for landscaping and lawn care companies, making the change easier to swallow. Becoming a sustainable business will allow companies to lower their costs in the long run, elevate their brand and reputation, and open a door to make new connections with customers and employees. Bottom line, transforming to a sustainable business is not that difficult and it will likely lead to greater profits and sales growth.
How Do Landscapers Negatively Impact the Environment
There are several key challenges facing owners of landscaping and lawn care businesses when it comes to their effect on the environment.
Harmful Carbon Emissions from Equipment and Vehicles
The current standard for machinery and equipment is gas powered, which releases carbon into the atmosphere when in use. Everything including the tractors, lawn mower, trimmers, and blowers all have inefficient energy production in comparison to the amount of carbon dioxide they emit. While powered mowers, trimmers, weed whackers, and blowers are absolutely needed, there are eco-friendly alternatives that have a much lower environmental impact and are just as effective as gas-powered.
Hazardous Chemicals and Fertilizers
Another way landscapers can harm the environment is by using inorganic fertilizers for grass and plants. Inorganic fertilizers are extremely high in nitrogen which is good for plants, except for the fact that they only tend to absorb half of the nitrogen in the fertilizer. Some of the remaining nitrogen is then released as nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Additionally, some of the nitrogen is washed away, where it pollutes waterways and causes algae blooms. These algae blooms create dead zones in the water which kill all aquatic life in the area and can eventually become so toxic that they contaminate drinking water to the point where it can no longer be consumed by humans. Inorganic fertilizers also tend to lower soil pH making it more acidic, this causes the microorganisms in the soil to die, which leads to unhealthy soil and as a result unhealthy plants in the long run.
Besides fertilizers, landscapers and lawn care professionals add chemicals to their environment by using weed killers and pesticides. The most common herbicide is glyphosate, known by its commercial name Roundup. While glyphosate may be necessary for farming, it is likely that its risks outweigh its benefits when it comes to landscaping. Some studies claim that the herbicide can cause cancer and once the chemicals are sprayed, they can migrate to unintended areas through the movements of wind and water, affecting not only the user but innocent bystanders. The same principle applies to pesticides, which when they make contact with the skin can be harmful to humans and animals.
Negative Impact on Ecosystem
The wrong landscape design can have a tremendous impact on the environment and sustainability particularly when it comes to hardscape. Hardscape is a problem for several reasons including heat absorption, water runoff, and preventing plant growth. Hardscape, particularly hardscape with dark shades, absorbs sunlight during the day and then releases this energy at night. These surfaces make a big difference when it comes to the warming of the planet. The next problem is caused when hardscape surfaces prevent water from soaking into the ground, which increases the speed at which water enters the sewage system. This water has not been properly filtered by plant life and therefore contains large amounts of pollutants which then poison fish and wildlife. The last problem with hardscape is that it prevents plant growth. Plants are able to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and when areas are cleared of them, this harmful greenhouse gas is unable to be absorbed.
Wasteful Use of Water
There are several ways landscapers and lawn care professionals can cause excess amounts of water to be consumed, including the planting of exotic vegetation, cutting grass too short, and inefficient irrigation methods. Exotic plants can be very aesthetic and many people will be tempted to add them to their landscape design, however this can be a problem because these plants tend to be unsustainable. Non-native plants are not completely adapted to their new environment, and can therefore need excess amounts of water and nutrients to survive.
Some customers like their grass cut very short, but this is not an efficient way to conserve water. When grass is cut short the sun is able to dry it out much quicker, which means that the grass must soak up more water, or else it will burn out and die. To prevent this homeowners water their grass more often and waste more water than is needed.
As for Irrigation methods, most homes are typically sourced with surface irrigation, which is the least efficient method. Much of the water is evaporated before it can fully seep into the ground. In addition to this some homeowners use their irrigation system at the time of day when the sun is hottest, making surface irrigation even less effective.
There is more to running a landscaping business than may be perceived by the average person. In fact there is a good amount of work related to operations and planning that would be considered more in line with traditional office work. Landscape and lawn care professionals can hurt the environment by using paper and regular office supplies. Additionally, landscapers can harm the environment through unnecessary driving when they visit clients and job sites in person.
Landscapers and lawn care professionals also have to consider their transportation to and from customers’ homes and job sites. Businesses that use vans for service and delivery have an opportunity to be more environmentally friendly by migrating to electric vans and trucks. The switch from fossil-fuel vehicles to battery-powered electric vehicles reduces your company’s carbon footprint while elevating your reputation as a standout, green company committed to doing good.
How to Become a Sustainable Landscaping Business
Switch to battery powered machines
Instead of gas power, use battery powered vehicles and equipment that is responsible for significantly less carbon emissions than combustion engines regardless of the source used to charge said batteries. Ideally you should put solar panels on your home or workspace in order to provide renewable energy to the grid, in order to compensate for the energy you are taking out to charge the batteries. As for mowers and other equipment there are many great options out there. Check out our GBB article on Electric Equipment. Websites like Home – MEAN GREEN MOWERS (meangreenproducts.com) or https://www.greenworkstools.com also provide ideas and electric options.
Electric equipment may have higher upfront costs, but those costs are coming down as the technology matures and in the long run they will be less expensive to operate. You will spend more money filling up your machines with gasoline than you would by charging a battery. Also, the costs associated with maintenance for gas powered machines is much higher than electric machines because they have a more simple design than gas engines. Not only is going electric good for the planet, but it is good for your health as well, because you can avoid inhaling the toxic fumes associated with gasoline, and the machines are much quieter so they are better for your long term ear health.
Use Organic Fertilizer and Chemicals
Landscapers can reduce their contribution of harmful chemicals and compounds to the environment by using organic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Organic fertilizers are the product of natural decomposition and provide plants and grass with nutrients that are easier for them to absorb, and which do not harm soil structure in the long run. To find out which organic fertilizer is right for you check out this article, Bob Vila’s Best Organic Fertilizers of 2022. In order to keep your grass healthier, and therefore lessen the amount of fertilizer you need, consider grass-cycling, which is when you do not bag grass clippings and instead allow them to be returned into the lawn. This will provide nutrients for the grass to continue to grow healthy.
Many of the best herbicides and pesticides can be made at home and are both cheap and effective. Most typically use some combination of salt, vinegar, dish soap, or lemon juice, ingredients which are not harmful to humans. Check out this article, 5 Homemade Weed Killers That Really Work, for more information. If making weed killer at home is not for you, then you can always buy an organic weed killer which claims to be made without any harmful chemicals. Check out this article, 7 Best Organic Weed Killers – No More Harmful Chemicals, for a comprehensive list of options. Possibly the most effective way to eliminate unwanted weeds is simply pulling them out by hand. Although it may seem laborious, it is a sure-fire way to remove weeds and keep them gone by pulling out the entire root.
Use Green Space or Permeable Hardscape
The best way to avoid the negative effects of hardscape is to opt for a green space, an area made of vegetation rather than concrete or brick. Plant based landscapes will help with water, heat, and carbon absorption which will benefit the environment. If your client is set on hardscape, offer an option that is more sustainable such as wood, urbanite, or pervious concrete and asphalt. Wood is a great option because it is biodegradable, just make sure you stain it with eco friendly stain. Urbanite is a good option because it is leftover concrete that was damaged or demolished and therefore keeps materials from going into a landfill. Pervious concrete or asphalt is important because it allows water to flow through it instead of simply on top of it, preventing water runoff. These materials can also act like a type of filter to prevent harmful pollutants from getting into the groundwater below.
Water is becoming a more important resource and landscapers should do everything they can to assist their clients in using less water in order to help the environment and their clients wallets. Planting native plants is one way to accomplish this. These plants are well suited to the temperature and weather conditions where they are local to. Utilizing these plants in landscape architecture will prevent excess water being needed to keep alive exotic plants that are not suited to their non-native environments. Another way to save water is by cutting the grass a bit higher, which will allow your grass to retain more moisture and therefore require less water. When you do water your plants and grass make sure you are doing it when the sun is at its least powerful. Irrigation at dawn and dusk allows the plants the time to absorb the water they need, while during the peak heat of the day, the water evaporates before it can soak into the soil. Last but not least, encourage your clients to opt for drip irrigation systems. These systems are extremely efficient when it comes to water conservation and cost savings.
Reduce the Footprint of Your Office and Vehicles
Some of the most simple adjustments that a landscape professional can make to their office is going digital, switching to LED lights, and having more meetings over the phone. Going digital will help cut back on a lot of unnecessary paper usage. Switch the lights in your office to LED, as they use less energy than incandescent light bulbs. The biggest impact on the environment will be from all of the energy usage that will be saved by driving out to jobs to meet clients and give quotes. Although you will still need to inspect some job sites, a lot of these visits can be replaced with a video call where you will be able to examine the property without driving there.
For your vehicle, look to pre order an electric truck. The 2024 Silverado EV base model with 510 horsepower and a towing capacity of 8,000 pounds, or the 2022 Ford F-150 Lighting with 563 horsepower and a towing capacity of up to 10,000 pounds are viable options.
Demonstrate Your Commitment to the Environment
It is clear that being a sustainable landscape and lawn care company is both attainable and affordable. Going green will increase your revenue, reduce your costs, and give you a competitive advantage over your competition. The last piece of the puzzle is getting recognition for it. Prove to your customers that you are in fact eco-friendly and not simply greenwashing by getting verified by a third party. The Green Business Bureau can help you make these changes and help you market your business as environmentally friendly.
About the Author
GBB Green Ambassador
Marcus Permatteo is a content creator as well as a financial analyst with a focus on environmental and social governance for the Green Business Bureau. He is a graduate from the University of Connecticut’s School of Business with a bachelor’s degree in finance. Outside his professional life, Marcus enjoys spending time outdoors and reading.