Bell Nursery’s recyclables top 500,000 pounds every year, and by moving to wind-generated power at three locations, the company avoids burning 180,000 gallons of gas or 1.7 million pounds of coal — the equivalent of 344 cars on the road every year. The neonicotinoid-free grower focuses on “following the science” and, as Vice President Cole Mangum says, “being prepared for whatever happens.”
Sustainability is the right thing to do in a green industry — and it’s also important for protecting the future of a business, he points out. “Being on the leading edge has always been important to us,” Mangum says of the decision to go neonic-free in 2014, one of the first major growers to do so.
Yes, there’s investment required to make big change. But sustainability puts more green at the bottom line, and growers who embrace environmental best practices recognize that change makes good sense.
“We have to have a profit to be a thriving business that can withstand economic downturns, weather issues, and whatever else comes our way,” says Jill Hoffman, president of Hoffman Nursery in Rougemont, NC. “To make sure that the company stays profitable, we are always looking for better ways to conduct our business.”
Better business is sustainable, says Arthij van der Veer, More Profitable Sustainability (MPS) coordinator for North and Central America. MPS is the leading sustainability organization for horticultural growers and its data-driven benchmarking gives growers a grade based on performance.
Willoway Nurseries in Avon, OH, is currently pursuing MPS certification, and Head Grower John Terhesh says showing colleagues the numbers gives them proof that change is worthwhile. “Having that data is a better way of communicating to staff versus just ‘having a feeling we are spraying too much,’” Terhesh says of getting employees to adopt sustainable practices.
van der Veer says growers can identify where they stand in the key categories of crop protection agents, fertilizers, energy, water and recycling principles. “If a grower sees he is using more fertilizer than average, he knows he is spending more on fertilizer and can look at how to reduce usage and get the ROI,” he says. “We help growers not only understand how they compare to others, but by working with them they can save money when they have better controls.”
Smart, Green Investment
During the recession, North Creek Nurseries in Landenberg, PA, began taking a good, hard look at its best practices. “You’re bleeding money — yet you have to look forward,” says Steve Castorani, president and CEO. North Creek was fortunate to secure a loan during the economic downturn, and the money was used to implement lean manufacturing principles.
“We went through a process of hiring a consultant and reducing waste,” Castorani says. “You have to look at your waste stream — and that can be simply, movement. It could be energy waste. All of these different types of waste don’t add value to what you do.”
A modern greenhouse complex has radiant heating in the floors, and passive cooling through roof vents and side walls that open. “In building that greenhouse, we built a constructed wetland and put in detention basins that we vegetated with native plants, and we use those basins for collection of seed, and to slow and filtrate water,” Castorani says.
The new facility brings benefits to North Creek’s people, too.
“They have a nicer environment, they are closer to their work and more comfortable — all that builds morale,” Castorani says.
A strategic plan North Creek implemented a few years ago has been “a big drumbeat to save money,” Castorani adds. “That’s everyone’s job, and that money filters down to the bottom line.” As a result, employees were rewarded through an informal profit-sharing last year. Each person received two weeks of pay as a bonus.
Sustainability is about being proactive. It’s about asking questions: “Do we have enough water to increase our business? Do we have enough labor? Is our contingency plan adequate in case of a downturn in the economy,” Hoffman relates.
Hoffman Nursery introduced Lean Flow and 6 Sigma into its operations. At this year’s Cultivate, It will participate in the new MarketMetrics for Growers. “Looking at these metrics should help us identify where problem areas are and enable us to address these areas for more profit,” Hoffman says.
Sometimes, better management can be as simple as making a phone call. That’s what Mangum found with energy. “It wasn’t hard,” he says. “It took me five minutes to ask our energy company about wind power, and they drew up an agreement. We don’t have big windmills on our facility. In a state with a deregulated energy market, you can work with a broker to purchase your supply and say, ‘Show me what national wind pricing looks like.’ We’re buying wind credits, and based on our volume, the cost is very similar to traditional coal-fired electricity.”
Hoffman points out, “If you have a good basis of sustainability, then you will be able to solve any problem you have at the time. If you can’t solve it, then you will certainly be able to manage it better.”