Hybrid motors, plastic pot recycling lead this year’s green initiatives at Brickman

Above: Brickman is testing propane-fueled mowers. Reports show that there is a 15 percent improvement in fuel efficiency in propane mowers as compared to gas or diesel. This could reduce fuel consumption by 225,000 gallons. Each gallon of propane reduces toxic emissions by 80 percent and smog forming emissions by 70 percent.
Photos by/courtesy of Brickman.

Last year, Brickman’s St. Louis North office partnered with the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) to launch a plastic pot recycling program. The Brickman St. Louis North supervisors and operations managers collected all the plastic pots used at the MBG site. This helped MBG, already renowned for the most extensive public garden recycling program in the nation, to set a new record for recycling, collecting and “reinventing” more than 130,000 pounds of plastic landscaping pots for 2009.

The program works this way: Collection centers are set up throughout the St. Louis area to collect plastic garden pots, polystyrene cell packs and trays that are then sorted and granulated into chips. The chips are rounded and molded into landscape timbers used by MBG and at other sites. These timbers represent thousands of recycled pots, packs and trays that were destined for the landfill; they are naturally pest-resistant and outlive traditional railroad ties.

Stephen Cook, division account manager for the mid-Atlantic region, provides guidance on LEED certification of projects and communicates to Brickman employees and clients the different methods that can be applied to practices to be more sustainable.

Partnering with MBG on the Plastic Pot Recycling project was a natural for Brickman. “Before ‘going green’ was considered cool, Brickman has been committed to reducing landscape waste through on-site mulching and third-party recycling,” says Stephen Cook, division account manager for the mid-Atlantic region. He also provides guidance on LEED certification of projects, and communicates to Brickman employees and clients the different methods that can be applied to their practices to be more sustainable.

Cook says Brickman was also reducing or eliminating pesticides through IPM, using organic fertilizers and hybrid programs and biodegradable and recycled plant containers, as well as performing landscape renovations to integrate sustainable native plantings and comprehensive irrigation management before most.

At its offices, Brickman practices energy conservation, such as retrofitting fluorescent lighting fixtures with high-efficiency ballasts and adjusting programmable thermostats to conserve utilities. The company is reducing paper documents through implementing online work flow processes that eliminate the needless generation of documents. Its office and yard recycling programs include paper, plastic, glass and, where possible, even motor oil. It purchases from local vendors to ensure healthier, more geographically appropriate plant material, while reducing the environmental impact of shipping materials across the country.

Brickman’s work crews use experimental low-carbon emission equipment, such as propane-fueled trucks and mowers, and company vehicles include hybrids and four-cylinder vehicles for sales and operations managers, with efficient route mapping to reduce trip time of vehicles on the road.

Just this year, Brickman’s managers’ fleet consists of Toyota Prius hybrids. With this program, Brickman will be replacing almost 500 conventional-fuel vehicles with more fuel-efficient cars that achieve 50 mpg, reducing carbon emissions by up to 70 percent as compared to other new vehicles. “That will translate to about 280,000 gallons of fuel saved per year,” says Margie Holly, communications director. “The Prius fleet will be outfitted with our new sustainability brand, Planet Friendly, that we introduced this past year. The Prius program was a logical extension of our vehicle policy which began two years ago with our fuel-efficient four-cylinder Ford Rangers for production managers.”

Due to its sheer size alone, Brickman’s sustainability focus packs a punch when it comes to moving the green industry forward in this area. With annual revenues exceeding $750 million dollars with 170 branches in 30 states with more than 10,000 employees, Brickman is considered the nation’s largest commercial landscaping firm. Since the late ’90s, it experienced an eightfold growth increase outpacing the industry average of 11 percent per year. It provides a wide range of services, 85 percent in the maintenance areas, 18 percent snow removal and 2 percent design-build.

Some of the more high-profile projects have included Chicago’s Soldier Field; Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; San Diego’s Balboa Park; the renovation of New Orleans’ historic City Park after Hurricane Katrina; and maintenance on the baseball center in the last three Olympics in Sydney, Athens and Beijing. It is also one of two preferred landscape providers for all Marriott locations and is one of the largest landscaping maintenance companies for military base housing, including Fort Campbell (Ky.), Fort Drum (N.Y.) and Robins Air Force Base (Ga.), among others.

In 2006, CEO Scott Brickman, representing the third generation of a family-owned business, received the annual Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the company’s commitment to philanthropy. One such example is its commitment to the national GreenCare for Troops project in which it provides free landscape maintenance services to approximately 50 military families whose primary breadwinner is serving in the Middle East. The purpose of the initiative is to help reduce the burden of running a household while a family member is serving.

Organized by the national nonprofit organization Project EverGreen, GreenCare for Troops is an outreach program whose participants include landscape maintenance providers from across the country. Brickman, which serves commercial clients in 23 states, has coordinated participation from 56 of its branches, which are in close proximity to military bases. Each branch will “adopt” a family and will provide basic landscape maintenance free of charge.

The company started in Chicago in the late ’30s when the burgeoning northern suburbs and their massive lawns started to grow. Forty years later, Brickman not only made its first acquisition, a tree-trimming service, and expanded outside the Midwest to the East Coast, but was also catapulted to prominence when Ray Kroc signed the company to provide landscaping designs and services for McDonald’s Corporation’s new headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill.

Brickman’s managers’ fleet now consists of Toyota Prius hybrids, replacing almost 500 conventional-fuel vehicles with more fuel-efficient cars that achieve 50 mpg, reducing carbon emissions by up to 70 percent as compared to other new vehicles.

In the new millennium, Brickman continues to acquire landscape firms and open satellite offices. Brickman’s new SportsTurf Services unit was formed to provide design and maintenance services for athletic fields throughout the U.S.

Green Management Consultant Larry Cammarata is leading Brickman’s crusade for horticultural-based “green management,” with both an internal and client-based focus on water-soil-plant balances.

“Customer demand was the reason why my position was created,” explains Cammarata. “They are all looking at sustainability to save money.” On average, when Cammarata conducts landscaping sustainability audits for Brickman’s clients, it saves them 40 to 70 percent.

Cammarata started with Brickman 25 years ago in various capacities including irrigation consultant, a subcontractor and branch manager. For the past two and a half years he’s held the title of green/sustainability consultant. His primary responsibilities are to support customers in meeting their environmental objectives, and train existing and future team members in proper green management practices.

Cammarata says Brickman is unique in the green industry for how it operates in the sustainability arena. “We look at the whole picture,” he says. “Irrigation is just a part of the picture. It can’t be isolated. Soil types and plant types need to be examined at the same time. ‘Right plant, right place, right soil’ equals sustainability in the landscaping world.”

In general, because Brickman is a nationwide company, it does things a little differently in each geographic region/climate zone, and according to its clients’ top priorities for sustainability. That can range anywhere from full sustainability audits, water audits, recycling landscape waste or initiating organic programs. This year, Brickman is starting its first annual sustainability awards program companywide to encourage sharing of sustainability ideas amongst its employees.

Cook sees the surge in LEED certification as another reason for customer demand for sustainability practices. “State and local leaders are encouraging and requiring new projects to achieve LEED certification,” explains Cook. He believes this trend will continue to grow and move rapidly into the private sector as many of these new benchmarks become part of standard building codes, as well as help reduce operational costs and improve the health of the environment people live and work in.

Sustainable landscape installation of native plants in full bloom at Grainger headquarters, Lake Forest, Ill.

For the past 20 years, Tom Crain has been a regular contributor to B2B publications, including many in the green industry. He is also a marketing communications specialist for several companies in the travel, agriculture and nutrition industries.