America In Bloom Spreads The Word About The Benefits Of Plants [Opinion]

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2013 Charlie HallThe 2013 America in Bloom (AIB) symposium’s theme was Create The Magic, appropriately named given we met in Orlando last September 19-21. Mr. Walt Disney himself would have been proud of the magic of those three days.

America in Bloom encourages the use of flowers, plants, trees and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements through education and helping communties improve their appeal.

Flowers, shrubs and trees beautify and help draw customers to shopping districts and reduce shopper stress while they are there. They boost apartment and commercial building occupancy rates, increase revenue from tourism, create local jobs (from various landscape-related services) and increase residential and commercial property values. Plants even reduce the costs of street repairs from the reduced temperatures resulting from shaded roadways and sidewalks.

And our industry certainly benefits. One grower says it saw an 8 percent increase in plant sales to cities that are participating in America in Bloom.

Yet the plethora of benefits provided by flowers is not common knowledge or ingrained in modern-day American culture. Humans have difficulty seeing flowers or plants, much less connecting plants to tangible benefits — a phenomenon called plant blindness. For most people, flowers and other plants are a part of the subconscious, perceived as backdrop, not the main actors in the playing out of our everyday lives.

America In Bloom Helps

Founded in 2001, America in Bloom is modeled after proven European and Canadian programs and offers a national awards program for cities, towns, townships, college and university campuses, business districts, military installations and identified sections of large cities.

The AIB program provides a framework for improving the overall quality of life of community citizens all across the country. It is the only program of its kind that provides on-site, one-on-one mentoring and coaching by a team of expert judges who provide a detailed, written evaluation. Since our founding, nearly 200 cities in 40 states have participated.

Getting back to this year’s symposium, this is one of my favorite meetings to attend because we are able to see the impact of AIB directly. Folks fly in from all across the nation to celebrate the collective achievements of this vital program and I can tell you firsthand that the civic pride and sheer joy is written all over the faces of those who attend.

Seeing that changes you. You could be the biggest cynic known to man and you will come away from this meeting warm-hearted, knowing that the quality of life is being enhanced in every single participating AIB community.

How Plants Enhance Quality Of Life

Please don’t undervalue how important it is to improve quality of life. I don’t care who you are or what demographic segment you belong to, everyone is interested in enhancing his or her quality of life. It just so happens that beautification efforts do this through health/well-being enhancements, ecosystems services benefits (also referred to as environmental amenities) and economic paybacks.
While the list of environmental amenities is quite exhaustive, it is impressive to consider a mere subset of them. Beautification through gardening:

■ Sequesters carbon
■ Generates oxygen
■ Attracts wildlife
■ Enhances biodiversity
■ Offsets heat islands
■ Reduces air, noise and glare pollution
■ Mitigates soil erosion and storm water runoff
■ Minimizes wind damage
■ Reduces energy use
■ Boosts the economy

Plants Improve Human Health And Well-Being

While these economic and environmental benefits may not come as much of a surprise, the health benefits might. Peer-reviewed research has documented a person’s ability to concentrate in his or her work environment is enhanced by the presence of plants and flowers. Children learn faster and are less distracted in flower and plant-filled environs. Flowers have even been documented to reduce stress levels and hypertension and ease the effects of attention deficit disorder.

All industry firms need to emphasize these types of messages in the marketing efforts of their individual companies. Since previous efforts on the part of the industry to provide a united voice through a generic advertising campaign (e.g. Got Milk) have been met with less than enthusiastic response, America in Bloom is the best alternative we have right now to propagate the quality of life value proposition.

There is an old adage that says: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” The past few years caused our industry to do some things differently than we had been doing previously. We’re doing more with fewer people and in some cases, fewer resources. But as we move into the future, even more aggressive marketing will be needed to ensure that we are considered as necessities in our consumers’ lives and not mere luxuries.

Now we must continue to make those strategic marketing investments both as individual firms and through industry-wide efforts like America in Bloom.

Charlie Hall (charliehall@tamu.edu) is a professor and Ellison Chair in International Floriculture at Texas A&M University.

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