New SIMA guidelines aim to help you use salt wisely


With the release of sustainable salt use guidelines, SIMA aims to push the snow industry forward.

Freshwater resources throughout North America are contaminated with chlorides as a result of salt use in winter management operations, experts say.

With this information in mind, the Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA) set out to establish recommendations to help industry members make wiser decisions regarding salt operations.

Phill Sexton, director of outreach and chief knowledge officer for SIMA, says the purpose of developing this document, “Best Practices Guidelines for Sustainable Salt Use,” was to inspire broad adoption of these standards with a set of guidelines that are accessible to anyone, affordable and easy to understand. The document is available for free download on SIMA’s website.

Sexton suggests companies implement these guidelines along with additional training, research and real-world experience to build a thoughtful approach to using salt. In his own travels and communication across the industry, Sexton says the issue of salt use continues to come up again and again. Over the years, SIMA has invested in research on application rates, launched a Sustainable Salt Initiative and renewed its focus on the use of liquids and other practices that can reduce salt output.

The development of this document, the most recent initiative, involved a diverse range of stakeholders sharing input, he says.

“A broad stakeholder review process was implemented for assisting SIMA staff to confirm and communicate the basic best standards of practice for reducing salt use,” Sexton says. “Stakeholders included winter management company owners, operations managers, property owners, facility managers, insurance industry representatives, manufacturers and suppliers, environmental service professionals and other subject matter experts.”

Getting on board

SIMA is hopeful that snow contractors will be on board with these guidelines and that they have an industrywide impact. In fact, many of the snow removal businesses Landscape Management spoke with expressed that they already adhere to similar practices in their own businesses.

“Our practices are very similar to these new guidelines,” says Michel Lyman, purchasing manager at Lynch Landscape & Tree Service, a company that does 90 percent residential work in Wayland, Mass. “We do manage our salt usage and like to be salt smart, as we know the damage that overusing or improperly using or storing this product can cause.”

For instance, the SIMA guidelines include avoiding dumping or relocating snow into bodies of water. Lyman says that’s something Lynch—which does about 10 percent of its total business in snow removal—already follows.

Similarly, the company covers salt loads in transit from site-to-site to prevent freezing and/or spillage.

William Blum Jr., CSP, vice president of Cenova Snow & Ice Solutions, a 100-percent snow removal company servicing the East Coast and headquartered in Philadelphia, says being responsible always has been important to his company. Blum says a majority of snow removal contractors are “people who value the outdoors” and want to be “good stewards of the land.” But he says the challenge arises when it comes to educating clients. Cenova serves an all-commercial clientele, and litigation is the main concerns.

“We have always trained and educated our crews, but it’s the client that also needs education,” Blum says. “In this litigious world, some of our clients have big concerns about slip-and-fall lawsuits and want salt, salt and more salt. It’s a vicious cycle that’s not always easy to navigate.”

Jim Hornung Jr., president of Elbers Landscape Service in Buffalo, N.Y., a 97-year-old landscaping company with $5 million in annual revenue (40 percent of which is snow removal), says he’s faced similar pushback from clients who demand the company “pile on the salt.” He says education must be “constant,” as there’s often resistance to change.

“Education is certainly not always an easy solution,” says Hornung. “Clients who have asked you to pile on the salt will then be the same ones that complain that their rugs need professional cleaning or their door frames are rotting out from the salt. For us, we’ve found that education is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Hornung’s company has invested in better plow technology that does a better job scraping ice, which reduces salt consumption, he says. He keeps his customers informed of these investments and informs them about ways they can improve the process.

“We talk to the customer about ways we can mutually benefit from using less salt,” Hornung says. “If they can give me less pavement to be responsible for, I can use less salt and give them a reduced rate. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of having
a conversation about solutions.”

Preparing for the future

The winter management industry is unregulated and has little, if any, required licensing or education. That makes it a low-barrier-to-entry industry, Sexton says, adding that it’s important the industry continues to move toward self-regulation.

“Best practices guidelines broadly adopted by the industry and the clients they serve are becoming the basis for establishing industry standards and self-regulation,” Sexton says, adding communities and states that have recently established certifications and/or licensing for applying salt and performing other winter management operations include Minnesota; New Hampshire; McHenry County, Ill.; Massachusetts; and Waterloo, Ontario. New York, Maine and Vermont are also looking at certification for salt applicators. The practices outlined in SIMA’s document were created to raise the bar of professionalism and to prepare the industry for potential regulations coming down the pike.

“These best practices are being developed in anticipation of supporting future state and provincial licensing certifications, particularly for salt use,” Sexton says. “These are already being proposed in more than four states that we know of so far. As a result, we must be prepared.”

Photos: Lynch Landscape & Tree service

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