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Sustainable Greenhouses and Nurseries: Green Everywhere Possible

Nurseries and greenhouses are directly connected to making our world greener and healthier. If you own a nursery or greenhouse, it is the time to get serious about incorporating sustainability into your business practices.Eco friendly greenhouses and nurseries are retail plant growers that are making extra efforts to become a sustainable business and improve upon their business practices; steps to achieve this can include converting practices to organic gardening, composting,  implementing water conservation techniques, reusing containers and using eco friendly materials, and planting and selling native plants. Taking these extra steps to protect the environment can help reduce costs, strengthen your brand, and attract customers that are environmentally conscious. Practicing good stewardship and sustainability is an integral part of making your business green both ecologically and financially. 

Why Greenhouses & Nurseries should become sustainable

The nursery and greenhouse industry is by no means a main contributor to environmental issues but it is beneficial for all businesses to adopt environmentally sound practices. A study conducted by the University of Kentucky found that the dominant contributor to the carbon footprint and variable costs of field-grown trees is equipment use, or, more specifically, the combustion of fossil fuels which occurs at harvest time. When it comes to waste, plastic was found to have the highest relative environmental impact in the nursery system (about 80% of the value of the total footprint). Other important environmental issues facing this industry are water use and water pollution. Additionally, specifically for greenhouses, they can use an excessive amount of energy to heat outside of planting season which can contribute to pollution. Small changes to such practices can make a huge environmental impact! 

Improve Cultivation Techniques to be Organic 

Cultivation techniques are one of the most important aspects in this business. You want these techniques to be efficient, reliable, and cost efficient. Natural and organic gardening techniques can provide this reliability while also being good for the environment. A huge first step is to cut down or eliminate use of herbicides and pesticides. Organic products can be easily found by looking for the OMRI certification. Switching to natural and organic alternatives can include using organic or living mulches, mechanical or hand cultivation techniques, and creating your own compost materials. For more specific information about this transition take a look at this article on organic gardening

Compost Where You Can

Composting can help reduce waste, save money, and be of usage with organic gardening practices. A variety of different materials found at a greenhouse and nursery can be composted including leaves, flower petals, dead plants, soil, grass clippings, different papers, and most other types of disease free organic waste. Organic waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Instead by composting this waste, methane emissions will be significantly reduced. Putting these materials in a composting pile or bin can tremendously reduce waste produced. Which in turn, saves you money on waste removal. This compost can also be used to organically help plant health and growth by being used as a mulch or potting soil. This will significantly promote higher yields of crops. To learn more about composting check out this website.   

Conserve Water With Drip Irrigation and Rainwater Capture

It is inevitable that a greenhouse or nursery is going to need to use a large amount of water to support their plant population, but there are a few ways in which water can be conserved. Watering at the correct times, such as the early morning or evening, helps the plant retain water best. Different watering and irrigation tools can be used including soaker hoses, moisture meters, and water reservoir systems. Additionally, in greenhouses specifically, drip irrigation can be a good alternative to hoses. Drip irrigation can reduce water use by 30 to 70 percent compared to conventional sprinkler irrigation. More about drip irrigation can be found here.  Collected rainwater can also be used to save a small amount of water. A soil additive called Hydretain can also be used. This additive effectively cuts water consumption to 50 %, saving time and labor while also increasing seed germination.

Reuse Containers and Use Eco-friendly Materials

Plastic was found to have the highest relative environmental impact in the nursery system, making it the main resource used which should be re-considered to improve the environmental performance of the system. Using innovative, recyclable materials can be an eco-friendly alternative to the landfill. Options for plastic alternatives can be found here. Compostable containers made of fabric are available for seedlings and nursery stock. For other retail pots and containers, it is highly recommended that they are recycled and reused. Asking the customers to even bring back their trays and pots can save you money and show your customers that you are recycling and playing your part. In addition, avoid using plastics as much as possible, such as using twine rather than plastic string. 

Plant, Raise, Buy and Sell Native Plants 

There are multiple benefits of gardening and landscaping with native plants such as taking advantage of the climate, soils, local pollinators, and water levels that allows the plants to thrive. This can lower the cost for fertilizers and pesticides, if your practices are not already organic. Natives are easier on your budget and workload, while also being beneficial to the ecosystem. Native plants will be more efficient and successful for both your business and your customers. The National Wildlife Federation has developed a great tool to help you find native plants! This native plant finder can be accessed here

Flourishing healthier, happier plants, employees, and customers

Adjusting a few of your practices to be more environmentally friendly will earn you healthier, happier plants, employees, and customers. Initiating small changes to your practices and business strategy that can also benefit the environment can include improving cultivation techniques to be organic, composting where you can, conserving water with drip irrigation and rainwater capture, reusing containers and using eco-friendly materials, and planting and selling native plants. 

 Making yourself a sustainable business will help to elevate your brand. In addition to implementing these few beginner steps above, getting certified as a green business will help growth and sales for your greenhouse or nursery. Check out this Getting Started Guide to Green Business Certification to find out more about certification, becoming a Green Business Bureau member, and the tools available that can assist you in your greenification. Today is the day to make these changes!

About the Author

Monika Metro

GBB Green Ambassador

Monika Metro is a content writer for Green Business Bureau with a passion for conservation, ecology, climate change, and giving back to her community. She has recently graduated from Virginia Wesleyan University with a BS in Biology and Environmental Studies. She will soon continue her studies in the Climate Change Science and Policy Graduate Program at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Outside of academics, Monika loves to travel, play soccer, hike, and is an avid yogi.

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