New solutions to age-old problems
It would be difficult to find a company in the U.S. that utilizes technology and innovation to solve turfgrass problems better than Rehbein Environmental Solutions, Inc. in Minneapolis, Minn. This company takes some of the latest developments in landscaping technology and applies them to turf, and has positioned itself for a lot of work in an era where environmental consciousness has become absolutely necessary.
RESI utilizes the latest technology to allow facilities to grow turfgrass under adverse conditions, or under legal restraints, and still have the grass be considered a conservation tool. “I think the American people have been misled, to some extent, that grass is the problem,” says Mark Rehbein, president and founder of the three-year-old company. He can’t stand to hear that municipalities in some desert states are paying people to take out grass and replace it with gravel.
His company has patented or licensed several technologically advanced products that allow it to make a turfgrass facility an efficient growing system. It offers everything from a passive irrigation system to several innovative permeable paving mediums in which grass can be grown. It also offers a breakthrough rooftop grass-growing system and rhizomatous tall fescue grass variety that can be more efficient than normal varieties. The company’s landscape design crew will fit one or more of these features into a landscaping project that allows grass to be utilized in an environmentally friendly way.
It has taken Rehbein a while to get to this point. His father, Glenn, started a Minnesota sod farm in 1956 that transformed itself into a diversified landscape company, and Rehbein started out there as a young boy sweeping floors in the summer. After a stint in the military, he got a degree in land surveying and engineering and eventually worked his way into the company, which still exists and has planted over 1,000 athletic fields. In 2006, Rehbein started this new company as a spin-off with a serious intent.
He wanted to carry on his late father’s legacy, as well as create a legacy of his own. His vision was to bring emerging technology into the turfgrass and landscape industry and use it to address current and future problems confronting those who want to use grass, in particular, in their construction projects.
The best example of this technology is the patented EPIC irrigation and drainage system. This unique, pressureless set of plastic pans installed underground captures and holds stormwater, graywater or irrigation water until it is needed by the plants. It is particularly useful for turf, which is planted over it in a sand medium. If enough natural runoff is provided, this system can store enough water to eliminate the need for irrigation.
Rehbein points out that one of the principal deterrents of grass planting is the use of extravagant amounts of water, even with the most efficient irrigation systems. The EPIC solution minimizes the amount of water required, and has been proven successful in several projects around the country. One of the most prominent being the installation of 130,000 square feet of turfgrass for the Cambria Elementary School District’s 12-acre campus in central California. A system was designed that could capture up to 2 million gallons of stormwater runoff and store it for use in the EPIC pan system, which serves to both irrigate grass and facilitate drainage.
RESI liked the design of the EPIC system so much that it bought out the company from the inventor, Jonas Sipaila, and hired him as director of innovation. He’s a one-man research department, working on new solutions to age-old problems with grass as the primary component. There are now 13 uses for the system, including as the irrigation component of the company’s Muellner Green Roof System.
Another product the company offers is the Netlon Advanced Turf System, an embedded interlocking plastic mesh in which turfgrass can be grown. The advantage is that heavy usage, such as by vehicles or horses, can be accommodated, so it has found widespread use as a medium in which to plant grass that can be used as a parking or driving area.
Rehbein thinks that permeable paver methodologies is one of the technologies of the future because it offers a solution to more than one problem in new landscape construction or renovations. For example, his company can create a parking lot out of turfgrass that also captures and utilizes stormwater runoff from a site. It can come up with ways to make a driveway beautiful, as well as an environmentally sound method of moving vehicles.
Finally, Rehbein thinks that an ordinary rooftop can be converted to a green lawn or mixed landscape to solve many problems before they occur. The Muellner system weighs about half what a standard rooftop lawn does. Weighing 75 pounds per square foot with a living lawn, the system uses the EPIC pan irrigation technology and a foam and shale-growing medium. It allows the property owner to install it usually without reinforcing the roof structure, and it incorporates a plant system for a roof, which can often be accomplished without the need of a pressurized irrigation system. The new Minnesota Twins baseball stadium will have green rooftops designed by RESI.
His company also offers RTF rhizomatous tall fescue because it has a deeper root system than normal fescues and repairs damage with spreading rhizomes. The company is a licensed seller of this patented turfgrass. When it can sell it as part of an overall turf installation program, it makes a very adaptive and drought-tolerant lawn. RESI sells most of it for athletic fields.
It is these kinds of turfgrass applications that have brought RESI business around the world. The company just designed and built a large parking and landscaping area around the Minnesota Gophers Stadium using Netlon permeable technology and EPIC irrigation, and is working to design facilities in Dubai and Australia, as well as other parts of this country. It is also helping create turf venues in South Africa for World Cup soccer play.
One of the unusual aspects of RESI is that it can accomplish such large projects with just six employees. It is principally a design-engineering firm and a product supplier, using its Minneapolis resources and access to technology to address a client’s needs.
“Then we find a qualified local contractor in that location,” Rehbein says, and that company’s employees are trained to use the special technologies designed into the project. RESI often supplies a supervisor to oversee the project, or it may let the contractor install everything and then provide an inspection to ensure the job has been done to its standards. Once a company acquires the proper skills it can then do RESI jobs without supervision. “We’re looking for partners all the time.”
Rehbein says the future looks bright for these types of technological solutions. With water resources receding and new municipal regulations making it necessary to address all of a site’s issues, it is often incumbent on the landscape designer to come up with out-of-the-norm methods. Technology is now available to do this.
One of the challenges his company faces, Rehbein says, is that such solutions are often so new or unconventional that clients are afraid to try them. So RESI has spent millions of dollars on experimental plots, from the Midwest to Arizona and California, to not only perfect its technology, but also to prove its efficacy. Having independent parties verify this through experimentation goes a long way toward getting a stamp of approval. Also, the company touts the transparency of its methods. Anyone can look at detailed information about products and projects on the company’s Web site, www.rehbeinsolutions.com.
“It’s all about credibility,” Rehbein says. With RESI, that has been validated by the fact that much larger companies have offered to buy him out, but he is committed to growing the company and meeting that demand with his own products. It’s a way he can take turf even to areas where it currently cannot be grown efficiently.
“The future is going to be really interesting,” he says.
Don Dale resides in Altadena, Calif., and is a frequent contributor to Turf. He has covered the green industry for more than 10 years.