By Kristen Hampshire
Millennials aren’t the only ones looking for a career with purpose, though they are driving employers to take a closer look at how a business can fulfill a mission to give back. Running a business sustainably is beneficial from a planet and profit perspective — and progressive companies also attract talented people, elevate the industry, and create avenues for teaching others about how plants protect our environment.
Because Hoffman Nursery cares about the environment and actively works to improve water and air quality, it gives millennials a reason to work there. “This is something that a lot of millennials are looking for these days,” says Jill Hoffman, president of Hoffman Nursery in Rougemont, NC.
“We think we have a product that will help the environment — the whole green industry has that product,” Hoffman continues. “If everyone in the industry can get that idea out to people outside of the industry — to students and the ultimate consumer — it will give this industry more purpose.”
MPS Certification: Proof of Sustainable Performance
Twenty years ago, a group of Dutch growers focused on grower sustainability started talking about how they could show objectively they were making a positive difference. “They were interested because they genuinely thought sustainability was the right thing to do,” says Arthij van der Veer, general international coordinator North & Central America, MPS.
That initial project evolved into a worldwide certification organization, More Profitable Sustainability (MPS), which is working towards a cooperation with AmericanHort this year.
MPS is a pioneer of sustainability standards, focused on data-driven benchmarking that gives growers an opportunity to compare their performance with growers of similar type and size. MPS-ABC Sustainability Certification evaluates a company in five categories: crop protection agents, fertilizers, energy, water, and recycling. Four times per year, participating companies receive benchmarking data. Today, more than 3,000 growers in 46 countries are in the program, and there are close to 80 growers based in North America.
van der Veer sees significant opportunity for growth in the U.S. market. “It’s one of the last big consumer markets where sustainability is still developing, and a market where MPS can still help growers to work towards a more sustainable production,” he says. “We are here for the long-run and AmericanHort’s endorsement of MPS is an important step.”
MPS is the largest worldwide sustainability certification organization—however, there are two other players. Veriflora® Sustainably Grown certification is for cut flower and potted plant producers, and the program is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The California Cut Flower Commission represents Golden State cut flowers and greens farmers and has a BloomCheck sustainability program. Certified growers are audited to assure sustainability related to water, air and soil quality, wildlife protection, and social impacts on workers and the community.
Certification, overall, is important for raising the industry standard and improving best practices, van der Veer notes. And, “Our certification also helps growers show their customers what sustainability practices they have in place,” he says. “This way they also have the proof.”
Every couple of years, Prides Corner Farms in Lebanon, CT, hosts a community plant sale. “The proceeds support local causes, and it’s important for us to try to continue that involvement,” says Tim Kane, inventory manager. “We are a big employer in the area and one of the largest taxpayers, so, there are a lot of ways we can contribute to the well being of the locality.”
Education is a key way that nurseries can give back. North Creek Nurseries in Landenberg, PA, does this by sponsoring scholarships for students and hiring interns who might eventually fill full-time positions. “We have a lot of customers and non-customers who come here to the nursery to learn about how plants are grown, and to learn about our sustainable practices,” says Steve Castorani, president and CEO.
North Creek also shares the information it gathers with other nurseries. “We are not trying to make what we do proprietary; we are trying to uplift the whole industry and say, ‘Hey, you can do this,’” Castorani says. “We are not perfect at all this stuff, but we keep focused on the target and we have adopted an environment of continuous learning. We spend a lot of time spreading the word about the benefits of plants and green infrastructure to people in the industry, and on the edge of the industry.”
North Creek publishes a range of planting guides on its websites and shares resources. Part of its values is to promote sustainable environments, Castorani says. The company also keeps its mission to the forefront by contributing plants to local scouting projects, teaching sustainable practices and native plant benefits to municipalities, landscape architects, and engineers.
“Our team is the most important part of our business,” Hoffman says. “We try to meet the challenge of making each member feel like they are part of the team.” That’s why the company hosts team-building events, employee appreciation lunches and food drives. The nursery has an HNI-TV closed-circuit channel that broadcasts announcements like birthdays, anniversaries and other shout-outs.
These internal efforts spill out to the community. Hoffman Nursery has a diverse workforce, and because of this, it selects events and causes to support that are important to its people. Events include Rise Against Hunger, canned food drives, and the Hoffman Market that raises money for the local food bank.
Sustainability is about taking a leadership position in the community as an organization that cares. Creating a work environment that values giving back attracts people to the workplace who want to perpetuate the mission. Castorani says, “If you are a company that is progressive, people want to come to work for you, and other nurseries can learn from you.”