Sustainability Revisited in Portland

by Ron Hall
5/14/2013

The significance of sustainability in the landscape industry varies widely from region to region within the United States and Canada. Where I live in a rural northwest Ohio discussions about sustainability in relation to the landscape/lawn service industry don't come up very often. It's not that we're backward. It's mostly because the region is dominated by thousands of acres corn and soybeans, and not urban landscapes and lawns.

In Portland and the Pacific Northwest, however, sustainability in the landscape/lawn service industry is a big deal - a very big deal. I knew that before attending the recent Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) conference in Portland earlier this month. Even so, during my short visit to Portland I greatly appreciated being reminded of just how strong a trend it is there.

During the two-day event the group toured Pacific Landscape Management and I also got to spend part of a morning with David Snodgrass of Dennis' 7 Dees. These are two great Portland-based landscape companies that are on the forefront of the industry in providing "sustainable" landscapes and landscape maintenance services. 

I'm familiar with other excellent landscape and lawn service companies in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere that practice and market services that, for want of a better term, can be described as sustainable, smart, efficient, less wasteful or lower maintenance. A large number of important customers in these companies' markets demand and expect this type of service.

Sustainability? Ok, let me just briefly explain how I see it. And if you disagree or have something you would like to add, please let me know at rhall@mrpllc.com. I'll share it with the industry.

As I see it, there are two over-riding tenets to providing sustainable landscape and lawn services. 

The first is to be able to provide customer-pleasing, profit-generating services using the fewest inputs and by generating the least amount of waste, including time and materials, as possible. (Industry consultant and entrepreneur Tom Oyler calls it not passing on a "dumb tax" to customers.)

The second is to be able to deliver services that restore and enhance damaged urban and suburban environments, including properties that are in such deplorable conditions that they adversely affect surrounding environments, watersheds being an obvious example. I don't see any other group of professionals better positioned to fix (aesthectically and environmentally) the ecosystems in and around where we live and work.

In my view anyway, not even the most environmentally aware and proficient landscape/lawn service company today provides services that are completely sustainable, at least in terms of being carbon and resource neutral. That's assuming that that's even possible given today's technology.

But, as I learned in Portland, some of us are definitely on the right track, which is extremely encouraging to me.

I see companies, such as Pacific Landscape Management and Dennis' 7 Dees, as showing many of the rest of us the direction we must follow to keep our industry innovative and growing.

Read my column in the upcoming June issue of Turf magazine and I'll share some of the practices that these companies use and that you can use, too, to make your companies more "sustainable" in terms of services.