Defining sustainability is a moving feast of factors often largely out of any individual’s control. Landscaper Magazine reporter Greg Rhodes asks some industry players for their take
Sustainability is a sprawling subject for which its definition depends on one’s perspective, it seems. It embraces every facet of living and is limited only by the scope of our thinking. But business places parameters on applying our worldviews, and we can join only some of the dots of what would be a virtuous circle.
Knowing where your dots end and another business’s begin can help speed the creation of that circle however, hence the importance of ‘sustainable’ supply chains.
Lying within the sustainability sphere, biodiversity also looms large. National strategies to create habitats that will help humans live alongside other life are impacting positively to some degree but extinction data suggests we may be losing the global battle, for a number of reasons. Coming down to earth, suppliers and contractors can only shape their immediate landscape of interest and hope their actions play a part in fashioning true sustainability.
Natural grass | Lindum Turf
As reportedly the most successful species on the planet, grass forms a key element in the sustainability equation. An efficient carbon dioxide absorber and oxygen emitter, its thousands of cultivars create living leisure and sporting landscapes.
Those dedicated to growing turf stay rooted to its benefits over artificial alternatives.
Lindum Turf grows some 900+ acres near York, supplying eight turf varieties for varying sporting, leisure and amenity demands as well as for green roof systems.
“We’re witnessing a big rise in turf sales across the board,” reports contracts manager Roger Moore, “and not only for traditional applications.”
“For the past two years we’ve laid a real grass red carpet for the Olivier Awards in London using Wowgrass, transforming the entrance into a natural environment. After the event the green carpet was reused elsewhere, supporting our green, sustainable vision.”
In 2010, the company laid 2,300 m of the same product in Trafalgar Square for the Greening Grey Britain initiative. “Afterwards, we rolled the turf back up and six hours later donated it to a soil stabilisation project on the Embankment, where it still remains.
May 2023 marked a milestone for the company when it won Sustainable Product of the Year at the Chelsea Flower Show for its plastic-free wildflower mat, which uses a mix of products that break down over time without causing harm to the environment, Roger explains.
“No fewer than 27 species of wildflower, perennials and herbs make up the self-sustaining mat – including ox eye daisies, pink and red campion, ladies cats ear and viper bugloss – which can be laid in virtually any setting,” says Roger.
Turf production | George Davies Turf
“Sustainability’s an easy buzzword,” declares George Davies, managing director of Milton Keynes based George Davies Turf (GDT).
“Trying to attain it makes turf production far trickier. Given the array of chemicals banned, and rightly so, growers have to modify and adapt to the new normal.”
With nearly a million rolls sold by GDT so far this year, all free of plastic netting, his concerns are justified, if only because reliability and quality of product is its lifeblood. “Leatherjackets are part of nature and their cycle cannot be ignored in the production of turf. When you factor in rapid climate change, hotter weather and the need to irrigate more to keep turf alive, as well as the more frequent storms you can understand the pressure growers are under.”
All the turf at GDT, which is sourced plastic free from top growers, is lifted with an automatic harvester to palletise the product with recyclable plastic wrapping before transporting it to the depots.
“I’m conscious of turf miles,” George says, “and as the rail network is just not there, we rely on road transport for collecting and delivering product.
“It’s about reducing the weight of each roll to maximise the number we can load on to a lorry without any reduction in quality to deliver more turf per mile, which in turn impacts our carbon footprint.”
Also, using growers within their tightly controlled catchment allows GDT to have deliveries in their yard within two hours to provide “the freshest turf on the market”.
The 3,000+ landscapers and thousands of garden owners GDT supplies will be heartened to hear such exacting attention to the nitty gritty of the sustainability journey.
Electric isn’t the future for HGVs however (it runs Seven currently, all Euro 6) George argues. “The Government is hell bent on electric but 10 HGVs on the fast charge network pull as much power as a small town.
Also, if you consider where and how lithium is mined then shipped around the world, no way can you say battery production is sustainable.
“JCB developed a hydrogen engine recently, and as an F1 fan, I believe in this technology more than electric and I would love to see hydrogen fuelled F1 soonest.
“Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was correct in drawing back from his net zero targets. It’s about whether we can compete on the world stage by reducing emissions so quickly. Afterall, moving from Euro 5 to Euro 6 brought about a miniscule reduction in emissions and was a costly transition.”
Operations manager Freddie Smith adds: “GDT is an early adopter of tech and is working with our diesel forklift truck manufacturer Manitou to develop an electric version strong enough to lift the 1.4 tonne pallets of turf but it’s a hard nut to crack to create enough range coupled with power.”
The topsoil GDT supplies is all BS3882 2015 standard, originating from Lincolnshire as a waste product of housebuilding.
“Recycling topsoil sounds feasible but can include nasties such as heavy metals so can be harder to achieve in practice – one reason we pull ours from trusted sources and is regularly tested.”
A farming background and degree in agriculture helps give George the wish to share knowledge and information to help raise awareness among his customers of the need to encourage more sustainable environments. “I want to do all I can to minimise my impact on our planet and hopefully leave the earth in better place than I found it.”
Fuelling sustainability | Aspen Fuel
Years before current heated debate over the UK’s continued reliance on fossil fuels and the government’s green light to lift more oil from the North Sea, Sweden was busy developing petrol without many of the additives proven to risk health.
Aspen Fuel was developed in the late 1980s to protect forestry workers from potentially cancer-causing exhaust fumes emitted by traditionally produced petrol, explains Axel Hildebrand, Business Development Director for Anglo American Oil Company, the UK distributor.
“As an alkylate fuel, it is low in the harmful hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene and xylene, which can cause ill health when exhaust fumes from traditional petrol are inhaled,” he explains.
“The fuel is 99 per cent less harmful and brings 108 times the improvement in carcinogenic benzene emissions when used in 2-stroke machinery. Some countries now require hand-held tools to be powered with it. We’ve taken the best bits of petrol to create a fuel that’s better for humans and machinery alike.” Little surprise then that Axel reports a strong increase in sales, year on year for domestic and professional use.
But can this be said to be a sustainable solution, in light of so much pressure to switch to electric? “Everyone has a different definition of sustainability,” he states. “If we’re talking about a fuel that allows tools and machines to last longer because it is chemically inert, so reducing waste, then I see this solution working hand in hand with electrically powered kit.
“Also, operators do not need to change their process of working, as they do when changing to electric. Petrol tools are also easier to fix and are therefore kept in service for longer compared to battery tools which are more likely put in the bin and replaced than repaired. All part of the sustainability equation.”
Battery power | Ego Power Tools
Meeting previous net zero targets was always a tough call, notes Emma Gayler, marketing manager for EGO Power Plus, which uses its own technology in the hand tools and turf care machinery it supplies.
Extensive independent research has equipped the company with some startling statistics about the level of emissions landscapers have been exposed to over the years when using traditional petrol-powered tools.
Ego’s current campaign “Challenge 2025” initiative is a bid to raise awareness of emission levels among various equipment, with an ultimate eye on persuading the sector to switch to battery power.
“A petrol leaf blower requires more than half of the fuel needed by a family car to run for the same amount of time,” Emma reveals, “so there’s still a big impact on the environment. These tools aren’t regulated in the same way as cars and are really inefficient. It’s all about getting the facts out there so that purchasers can make a more informed choice when they replace kit.”
Sustainability has to embrace the wider perspective if it is to mean something, she argues. “Looking at the issue holistically is vital – taking account of noise pollution for example, which can impact users’ health.”
With a focus on clean air zones, the 2025 campaign is now going to look into why local councils do not take the impact of outdoor power equipment on the environment as seriously as they do with vehicles, in some cases even banning them.
“We back the Green Public Procurement policy and welcome moves by Berlin to ban petrol leaf blowers,” Emma says, “and by California to ban petrol mowers next year. Our aim is to constantly look at how we can be as sustainable as possible, For example, we empower local dealers to repair tools instead of just replacing them. In France, the repairability index is a legal requirement and our new PRO X range has been designed with servicing and repairability in mind.”
In early 2024, EGO will be launching its new PRO X range of professional battery-powered outdoor power equipment. In preparation for this, the brand will be releasing a white paper – Battery Power, Performance and Public Spaces – “a thought-led document for those in the industry who want to find out more about the benefits of battery-powered tools, discover key – and shocking – industry stats and access information on important topics such as emissions and noise pollution; all in one place.”
Electric future | Etesia
Turfcare machinery and hand tools distributor Etesia focuses on electrically powered kit made in France. Though independent, “we are bound by the products Pellenc supply,” notes managing director Les Malin, “which are sustainable, technological solutions for green and urban spaces. It was the first global manufacturer to introduce lithium-ion technology in power tools, finding a compromise between power, autonomy and weight to satisfy demand for intensive and professional work.”
“Having launched our first battery machines in the late 1990s, we can claim to be at least 20 years along the sustainability road,” says Les, “and have been including recycled black polymer in products since 2010, when we launched the M2E Donky wheelbarrow.
“We’ve always built machines with longevity in mind,” he continues, “with some Hydro 100 ride-ons still in service since their introduction in 1985, before we brought out its electric equivalent in 2008/9.”
Key customers such as The National Trust demand sustainable solutions for its estates and Etesia fits the bill, delivering battery hand tools with interchangeable boards and repair capacity to limit waste, Les explains.
“You have to consider the whole lifetime of a machine, not just digging out core elements such as lithium.”
He too eyes the hydrogen fuel option as a longer term, even more sustainable solution, but for now, local councils are driving the agenda by specifying that contractors can use only 100% electrically driven vehicles within their boundaries.
“But for residential work, power options very much depend on landscapers’ financial status. It’s a difficult one. Noise intrusion can prove a big factor. For sole operators, time is precious. Electric tools allow them to start work earlier.
“I heard of one example where a landscaper had cut a customer’s hedge early on and then knocked on their door asking for payment. ‘When you’ve done the work’ was the reply!”
Two years ago, Etesia put in place a 10-year plan, assessing product and market developments and the company’s stance within those. “One in every eight British households have no garden and new builds have ever smaller ones,” Les notes. “It’s a changing market and the national trend is to develop larger green spaces for people to walk to so we have to adapt accordingly.