Why advocacy will be critical to help preserve the green industry’s future

April 19, 2023 -  By
(Illustration: Rob Dobi)

(Illustration: Rob Dobi)

Imagine this scene: Residents of a county want to ban the use of “harmful” pesticides. During a city council hearing on a proposed pesticide ban, proponents of this bill bring their children to the hearing — in bee costumes. Throughout the hearing, the “bees” die dramatically to illustrate how toxic pesticides are to pollinators.

While it might seem like a far-fetched notion, this exact scene unfolded just a few years ago. Following the theatrics, that pesticide ban passed resoundingly.

This is the exact reason those within the green industry seek to prevent these scenes in the future. And it’s not just pesticide bans. Many municipalities and states look to enact noise or emissions regulations on the equipment pros use. And there’s H-2B, the guest worker visa program many operations use to fulfill labor needs.

Andrew Bray

Andrew Bray

“We are facing attacks on almost every facet of what we’re doing right now,” says Andrew Bray, vice president of government relations with the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP). “The equipment we’re using, how we’re managing labor to get the jobs done to almost every sort of input that we may be using is coming under scrutiny from different factions within different interest groups with different motivations. I don’t see any of that slowing down.”

This scrutiny, says Nick Brummel, CEO of Brummel Lawn & Landscape in Blue Springs, Mo., is why it’s more critical than ever for those in the green industry to increase their knowledge about industry issues and interact more frequently with their elected officials.

“We’re behind the eight ball on most things,” he says. “We’re more reactive than we are proactive in a lot of situations.”

LM spoke with landscape professionals across the country to learn what they’re doing to educate and inform their customers, neighbors and lawmakers about the benefits the green industry brings to communities.

Threat No. 1: Restrictions to pesticide use

Brandon Sheppard

Brandon Sheppard

Brandon Sheppard, a Weed Man franchisor in the mid-Atlantic and president-elect of NALP’s board of directors, says getting out in front of elected officials is a good step in the right direction when it comes to potential pesticide bans.

“We humanize who we are, and it validates our arguments,” he says. “It makes it a lot harder to believe that we’re the evil corporate faces that our opponents make us out to be.”

When it comes to interacting with their elected officials and customers, Sheppard encourages everyone in the green industry to talk about how the state regulates pesticide usage, how you make decisions about the tools and inputs you use and how you optimize routes. 

He says it’s also important to chime in on pending regulations. Years ago, when NALP asked its members to weigh in on pending pesticide regulations, there would be a few hundred responses from the green industry and proponents of the bill would submit hundreds of thousands of comments in favor. Elected officials count submissions, Sheppard says. Comments that show the economic impact of green industry businesses help plead the case against the regulations.

“When they start hearing from members of our industry saying, ‘Hey, you know, I run an operation in your district. I employ X number of people. I serve hundreds or thousands of customers in this area,’ it changes the impact,” he says. “Elected officials need to know that we are part of their communities and that we are both passionate about and committed to doing work in a responsible and safe fashion.”

He says this helps provide a balanced perspective if residents of a community complain about noise or products used by local landscapers.

Threat No. 2: Gas blower bans

Doug Crimin

Doug Crimin

Doug Crimin, a project manager with Pacific Landscape Management in Hillsboro, Ore., says, as organizations seek to enact noise and emission restrictions around leaf blowers in Portland, Ore., his company is at the forefront of testing electric equipment to learn how to best implement it. The company also works with these organizations, such as Quiet Clean PDX. 

“Rather than try and work against these folks, let’s try and work with them,” he says. “Let’s understand their pain and their frustrations with the equipment and let’s let them know our pains and our struggles and frustrations with trying to make the transition, but not having it completely work out for us yet.”

Crimin served as the environmental resource committee chairperson for the Oregon Landscape Contractors Association, and he says building relationships was a big emphasis of his time on the committee.

“We always say the tide’s coming in and you can sit there and watch it or you can learn how to swim,” he says. “At some point, we need to really embrace (electric equipment) rather than trying to stay away from it.”

While this might seem like an unexpected approach, he says as Pacific Landscape Management works with these operations, the company gets insight into the concerns of the anti-blower organizations. 

“I think it’s critical to get together with industry groups and partners to team up and look for legislative bills that will come down the pipeline to ban these tools,” he says. “We’ve worked with study groups in the city and the county to look at how a blower ban might feel or impact different businesses — both large and small — and what are some of the infrastructure needs that would need to take place.”

Threat No. 3: H-2B  misconceptions

Nick Brummel

Nick Brummel

Brummel says there’s a lot of misconception around the H-2B or seasonal non-agricultural guest worker visa program among his clients. He says he often debunks the myths that his Hispanic workers came here illegally, he pays them below minimum wage and they’re stealing jobs from willing Americans.

Brummel says when a new client pushes back on his participation in the H-2B program, he explains the program costs for his operation and that he pays $19.50 an hour — the prevailing wage for H-2B workers — while his state’s minimum wage is $12. 

“We explained to them that it cost us close to $1,500 a person to get (H-2B guest workers) to even come to the country to get started to work,” he says. “The reason why we use the program is we can’t find labor locally. Then we make the comment that if we could find Americans that want to show up and want to work, we would hire them in a heartbeat because it would save us the money.”

He also takes the time to explain to customers the rules and regulations his operation must abide by to remain in the program, and if he violates any of the rules, he’s barred from using the program. He also shares with clients that his H-2B employees are on the company’s payroll. Brummel Lawn & Landscape deducts Social Security, Medicare and state tax and federal income tax. H-2B workers contribute without collecting the benefits.

“We’ve done a poor job the last 20 years of not educating people about this,” he says. “The more we educate them on H-2B the more (my customers) understand.”

Brummel says he enjoys sharing with his clients the ins and outs of why Brummel Lawn & Landscape uses the program, and he says he’s noticed a change, where some clients now help advocate on behalf of the guest worker program.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve gotten some momentum behind it and our clients know how important H-2B is to this industry,” he says.

Easy as 1-2-3

Getting involved in advocacy efforts doesn’t mean necessarily jumping in at the deep end and participating in Legislative Days (NALP’s lobbying day on Capitol Hill), says Bray.

“There are different entry points into advocacy depending on the amount of time that you can give to that cause,” he says.

You can participate by signing up for NALP’s The Advocate newsletter, which breaks down the issues most critical to the green industry and how professionals can get involved. NALP also asks its members to weigh in via emails to legislators.

“The action we’re asking is to literally take 30 seconds of your life or your day and send a predrafted email to a legislator,” Bray says. “We might ask you to go to your state capital if you live close by and provide oral testimony. Or if you’d like to fly into D.C. to lobby on the Farm Bill and H-2B reforms.”

NALP will host two legislative days: one centering on the Farm Bill on May 9-10 (and including preemption language to prevent towns from enacting pesticide regulations) and one for H-2B reforms on June 13-14. Bray says he expects movement on both bills this summer.

Karen Reardon

Karen Reardon

Karen Reardon, vice president of public affairs for Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE), says taking that proactive step to form relationships with city council members and elected officials at the state and national levels are critical. It can be as simple as an email or attending a fundraiser or local coffee hour.

“Get to know those elected officials, know what’s important to them, and position yourself as a local expert who’s ready and available to answer questions when they come up,” she says.

It’s important to practice your responses so you accurately and succinctly convey your message.

“Truly, with many elected officials, you’ve got two minutes. They’re working the line, or they’re moving through a fundraiser or a coffee hour,” she says. “They’re spending truly one to two minutes with each person. What’s your No. 1 talking point?”

Another important part of communicating with elected officials is to not speculate if you don’t know the answer. 

“Do not feel like you need to know everything under the sun. Be willing to say, ‘You know, I don’t know the answer to that today, but I know someone who can get me that answer and I’ll be back to you,’” she says. “You’ve created this great second touch point with that elected official to be back in touch and on the record in writing.”

We want you

Both the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) and Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE) offer members information to assist in their advocacy efforts.

NALP’s Voices for Healthy Green Spaces initiative shares information and success stories. RISE’s Grassroots Network connects professionals in the green industry with resources to help communicate the benefits the industry provides and share their knowledge.

“We are grassroots,” says Andrew Bray, NALP’s vice president of government relations. “We grow and maintain grass. We should have the strongest grassroots network out there. Voices for Healthy Green Spaces helps organize and activate that and point them in the right direction in a very efficient manner.”

Karen Reardon, vice president of public affairs for RISE, estimates there are around 80,000 jurisdictions in the U.S. She says the association can’t be everywhere all at once, so they need landscape professionals to step up.

“That’s a lot of ground to cover,” she says. “We can’t be everywhere.”

Little victories

It’s not all doom and gloom, says Bray. He points to specific results in key issues critical to the green industry to show that advocacy and grassroots involvement works.

“If people don’t think that progress has been made on H-2B, they’re not paying attention,” he says. “We have essentially doubled the cap this year (an additional 64,716 visas available for 2023 vs. 33,000 visas for 2022). I think that the only reason that happened was we had so much movement and momentum over the last couple of years that it’s been impossible for the administration to not release the maximum amount of visas.”

Bray says another success story unfolded one county over from Montgomery County, Maryland, which banned the sale and use of pesticides. A neighboring county, Prince George’s County, wanted to enact the same legislation. Bray says this is why NALP is working to get pesticide preemption language in the 2023 Farm Bill — to prevent this from happening in the future.

“We mobilized, and over the course of about a six-week fight, we not only got all of our members engaged, we got their branches engaged,” he says. 

NALP members in Prince George’s County communicated to their clients about how the proposed ban was unnecessary and would make it cost-prohibitive and difficult to continue to service lawns.

“I was on several calls where we had customers — not members of the industry  — customers of our members of the industry, talking to members of Prince George’s council,” Bray says. 

Sheppard, who was involved in the advocacy, says he saw firsthand how outreach to the council members illustrated how the proposed bill would have the opposite effect than what Prince George’s County intended. 

“We were able to show them that their proposed ordinance, however well-intentioned, would directly undercut Maryland’s effective regulation and enforcement program leading to a less regulated and controlled environment,” Sheppard says.

And Bray says thanks to this advocacy, the bill was defeated.

“We got one of the people that sponsored the original ordinance to vote against it, which was noteworthy at the time,” he says.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about the NALP’s upcoming two Legislative Days, the association’s annual education, networking and lobbying day on Capitol Hill. 


Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the former editor of Landscape Management magazine.

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