Sustainable groundscare management

Greg Bedson discovers how sustainable groundscare and changes of practice on-site and behind the scenes with the landscaping industry can help to support the environmental movement

Sustainability. Other than perhaps Brexit, this has become one of the biggest discussion points over the past few years. How can we lower greenhouse gasses? How can we reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill? Whether it be eliminating single-use plastic bags from the high street or encouraging greener methods of travel, changes are being encouraged across the board. But what changes are we seeing within the landscaping industry? Are there changes that we can make to ensure we are supporting the movement?

One area that is receiving particular attention at the moment is the‘war-on-plastic’or more accurately, single-use, non-recyclable plastic. There’s no denying that plastic has revolutionised the industry we see today; commonly used for growing materials, lightweight packaging and in the manufacture of tools and building materials, however the widespread use of it does have its drawbacks.

Plastic plant pots 

According to a study in 2018, it has emerged that as many as half a billion plastic plant pots are thrown away every year in the UK alone. By design, black plastic pots are a great choice for plant-growers. They are lightweight, low in cost, can survive being outside and most importantly, they prevent light from reaching the roots of the plants. 

Although most plastic pots from nurseries and garden centres are made almost entirely from waste plastic from car manufactures, the kerbside recycling cannot cope with the black plastic pots, nor can most other re-processers. This is because standard sorting machines struggle to detect the carbon pigment used to colour the pots which subsequently get categorised as waste and are sent off to landfill or incineration. 

Echinacea Sunseeker Magenta growing in Tauple Pot

This is a problem recognised within the industry and in 2018 The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) announced plans to replace the traditional black plastic plant pot with taupe. The taupe pot is made from 100 percent recyclable material, with as high a percentage of recycled polypropylene (PP) as possible, frequently from a UK source, with little or no virgin material. These pots are already being used by nurseries and retailers across the UK, with many other retailers pledging to make the switch from black to taupe within the next two years. 

Battery powers forward 

So what other areas are affected by the appeal for a greener future? In June’s edition of the Landscaper, we discussed whether plug-in vehicles are yet a viable option for those within the industry, but it’s not just our vans that are putting a drain on the earths resources. The use of petrol power tools is also an issue that needs examining.

A report carried out in the United States by the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that a petrol lawn mower running for one hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving at 55 mph for the same amount of time. Until recently however, these high emission tools were the only viable option for professionals. The good news for our planet is that as with plastic plant pots, the issue has been acknowledged and the trend has started to change. Most of the leading brands now have their own cordless power tool range, competing with petrol in terms of price and performance, giving professional users the peace of mind that not only can the the tools last all day, but they are doing their bit to help lower emissions. 

“Companies can operate more sustainability behind the scenes in the daily of running a business.”

So there’s some changes already happening ‘on-site’ but what about the work behind the scenes of the industry? According to the British Association of Landscape Industry’s (BALI) Marketing and Communication manager, Darren Taylor, the daily running of a business can also be addressed in terms of a greener future and he explains how companies and individuals could be doing more to operate more sustainability in all aspects of the business.

“Just some of the ways could include producing promotional literature using chemical-free inks and FSC compliant paper sources, or not producing them at all,” suggests Daren.

“Smarter use of transport to attend client meetings, insulating your premises or installing LED lighting, which generates less wattage and lasts longer or invest in your own source of renewable energy, including solar panels.”

Environmental workshops 

In the coming year, BALI is also planning on launching a series of strategic actions, working towards a more environmentally friendly future by offering guidance for members to educative workshops. 

There are also other trade associations taking steps towards a more sustainable future. The British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) have employed a dedicated ecologist and sustainability expert James Hutchinsion to advise Greenkeepers and other industry bodies on how to become more sustainable and holistic in their approach.

Speaking to the Landscaper Magazine, James talks about some of the differences he is starting to see. “The biggest thing I’ve seen is golf courses are now allowing rough to grow in,” he says. 

“Previously golf courses would just mow from wall to wall. I think it’s only the past five years that golf courses have allowed the rough to grow in – saving on fuel and man hours, as well as encouraging more ecology and wildlife.”

He also comments on how green-keepers are now beginning to act more responsibly with the grass clippings. 

“Historically green-keepers used to leave their grass clippings in the woodlands – its only in the past few years or so that we have decided to compost them with wood chips and the like to create compost and use them back on the golf course.”

World’s greenest football club 

Solar panels amongst wild flowers at Forest Green Rovers FC

In pitchcare, Forest Green Rovers Football Club (FGR) is a company going one step further than most in terms of their policies.Described by FIFA as being the ‘world’s greenest football club’as well as being the only football club in the world to receive the Vegan Society’s Vegan Trademark, has sustainability at its heart. The football pitch they play on is completely organic and free from pesticides and herbicides, watered using rainwater collected from beneath the pitch and cut using a GPS-directed lawnmower, powered by energy harvested from the sun. 

Forest Green Rovers FC

Speaking in the club’s 2018 Footprint report, Dale Vince, Chairman of FGR, highlights why the club have taken its stance on sustainability. “Because we know that a football club has an impact on the environment, we’ve implemented an Environmental Management System –to measure those impacts and target them for reduction.”

Vince also states that,“Within our Environmental Management System, we’ve set ourselves ambitious targets to continually improve performance and protect the environment, significantly reduce pollution made by all areas of the club, and ensure we’re compliant with environmental regulations.”

FGR is dedicated to becoming a truly sustainable football club: a world first. We aim to make the club a place where we demonstrate eco thinking and technology to a new audience: football fans. Indeed, we believe that we have the opportunity to introduce sustainability to the wider world of sport, not just football.”

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