Best practices are evolving, helping landscapers become more efficient and environmentally friendly at the same time.
No longer do people only look for quick and inexpensive. Buying habits have changed. Consumers now value a company’s ethics more than ever before, and they align their purchasing decisions with the companies that act as good corporate citizens. This includes companies in the lawn and garden industry.
Be it landscapers in the field or manufacturers building lawn and garden equipment, everyone in the industry has an impact on the environment. Meanwhile, consumers and lawmakers are putting pressure on the industry to increase efficiency and reduce emissions, and that’s motivating landscapers to put environmental stewardship higher on their list of priorities.
Property owners are looking for landscapers who not only do “good work,” but those that also care about the world beyond their neighborhood. And landscapers are looking for equipment that enables them to get the job done while meeting regulations and consumer standards.
Marty Grunder has been dealing with this scenario for years. The author of “The 9 Super Simple Steps to
Entrepreneurial Success,” he is president and CEO of Grunder Landscaping, a successful landscaping company based in Miamisburg, Ohio, and president and CEO of The Grow Group, a green-industry consulting firm that helps owners and their teams win in business. He knows firsthand the challenges the industry faces to go green, and he firmly believes in practicing what he preaches.
“Going green is more than just doing what is right for the environment; it’s a holistic approach to doing the right
thing,” he said. “Yes, it means doing things that are good for the environment — using battery-powered equipment, using less fertilizer and recycling — but it also means working efficiently to help our customers save money.”
New technology that is increasingly available to landscapers is helping drive business improvements, Grunder said. Not only are landscapers deploying new strategies to improve their companies, manufacturers are also continually improving engineering techniques to build the highest quality and best-performing machines they can, which in turn helps landscapers work more efficiently.
“We’re thinking about the margins on our gas usage, the type of equipment we use, how much time we spend
on a job, recycling and reducing waste,” Grunder said. “All of these factors impact our environment. We have to
be smarter about protecting the Earth. It’s a matter of doing what’s right.”
One of the chief concerns eco-conscious customers have when it comes to the lawn and garden industry is the
emissions that lawn mowers, snow blowers and other equipment generate. Over the years, manufacturers have
been working to make more efficient machines that reduce the amount of fuel used. Some of the smaller handheld tools, such as blowers and trimmers, are quickly shifting to battery power, eliminating their emissions.
Now the industry is on the cusp of its next revolution: battery-powered lawn mowers.
At the GIE+Expo in 2018, AriensCo unveiled a prototype of the Gravely EVZT. The mower is the company’s firstever battery-powered commercial zero-turn. It's still in development, but the ultra-quiet Gravely mower is
more environmentally friendly than its gasoline-fueled counterparts and is expected to meet California’s
“We’re looking forward to getting to test out Gravely’s battery-powered zero-turn,” Grunder said. “We like using
battery-powered equipment. We have a plan to outfit our crews with all battery-powered equipment in the next
year and a half. We think it’s the right thing to do, and our customers like that we’re doing the right thing.”
Grunder says that one area that landscapers can improve the most in is workplace efficiency. Factors like crew
transportation to and from job sites, where they park their trucks, and how quickly and expertly they get their work done all make a difference. At Grunder Landscaping, the team has detailed work orders and worksite drawings for each job that breaks down the materials and steps involved.
“We spend a lot of time figuring out how to do things fast but also the right way,” Grunder said. “We’re trying to drive quality up daily while also trying to push costs down, so we really focus on teaching our employees about efficiency. What it boils down to is that we have a job to do, and the sooner we get it done — and done right — the sooner we get to go home.”
But efficiency doesn’t only come from how landscapers perform. Another important factor is how well the
machines operate. Whether it’s reducing the size of the machine, the amount of materials needed to build it, or
even changing how the engine runs, equipment engineering makes a difference in how efficiently it works.
One piece of equipment that has been significantly improved is the Ariens snow blower, Grunder said. The
manufacturer uses kaizen events, which are process improvement meetings with its engineering and manufacturing teams to analyze where design revisions can be made. This not only instills principles of continuous improvement at AriensCo, it delivers better and more efficient products, like a better Sno-Thro, to customers. With continuously improved designs, machines operate better and with more efficiency, reducing the chances of downtime and helping landscaping companies like Grunder’s get the job done fast and well.
One environmental challenge landscapers face is reducing the amount of job site waste. Avoiding throwing away bagged organic matter, reusing materials whenever possible and recycling can all make a difference, but they aren’t always easy to do.
Organic matter, like grass, flowers and trees, is biodegradable and good for the environment. The challenge is finding space where it can decompose. Some homeowners throw it into plastic bags and drop it off at dumps when cutting their own lawns. This grass can’t decompose when it’s wrapped in plastic, and it won’t go back into the environment, worsening the problem.
One solution landscapers deploy is reusing organic matter as mulch; nowadays most lawn mowers have mulching mechanisms that cut grass clippings into very small pieces and return them to the soil. Grunder said studies show lawns are healthier when the clippings are left on them.
Reducing waste goes beyond organic matter, though. Clients sometimes ask landscapers to completely remake
outdoor areas, which can require removing installations and structures before building new ones. Non-biodegradable materials, such as concrete, metals, old pool materials and other items can be challenging to dispose. Grunder Landscaping faces this issue often and does whatever it can to reuse or recycle them.
“We separate all the materials we use and have an EPA-certified composting facility on our grounds,” Grunder said. “We recycle all the organic material that we can. Even when we pull out a metal basketball hoop pole, we bring the metal to a recycling center. The only thing we really bring to the dump is concrete, which we can only recycle every once in a while.”
While it costs more for Grunder Landscaping to follow these practices, Grunder says it’s worth it for his business and his customers.
Going green isn’t a new concept, but Grunder suspects that many people don’t know what it means in practice or what they can do to help the environment when it comes to lawncare. Educating them is one area in which landscapers and manufacturers in the industry can lead the charge. There’s a lot that landscapers can do, such as proper employee training, talking to customers about how to work together to reuse materials on a job and recycling waste.
Grunder said there’s enough research about topics like not bagging grass clippings, proper water usage, mulching and composting waste that shows how landscapers can help the environment. Doing these things hasn’t negatively affected his business.
“We see ourselves as leaders when it comes to using cutting-edge equipment and doing what is right for the
environment,” Grunder said. “That’s a winning mentality, and our customers appreciate it. They want to work with companies that are good stewards of the environment, and we want to work with customers who want to be, too.”