James Young, president of Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp., based in Plainfield, IL, says the company offers “organic” lawn care service in addition to the traditional chemical service, but relatively few customers are opting for the supposedly more environmentally friendly organic service.
In a July 20 interview with reporter Steve Hendershot of the Crain’s Chicago Business, Young said that only about 1,500 of the company’s more than 100,000 customers take the organic service. He says price is one reason why it’s not more popular. The organic service costs 10% to 15% more than traditional service. Also, the organic lawns tend to have more weeds, the reason why homeowners select a professional service in the first place.
In spite of low demand for the organic service, Young told the magazine his company is committed to “move in this direction.”
All organic or mostly organic?
Over the past 25 years, we’ve met and interviewed more than a few lawn care business owners that promote and offer “organic” lawn care services. Some eschew the use of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers altogether. Many, however, seem to have “mostly” organic programs. For example, some will treat specific areas of a property with “natural” products (perhaps where pets are kept or kids play) and use a traditional chemical program on other more visible areas, perhaps a property's front yard. And some, under some circumstances, will get customers' approval to use synthetic pesticides, usually herbicides but sometimes insecticides, to rid properties of specific weed or insect problems.
Most markets have at least one actively promoted “organic” lawn care service provider. These companies provide a welcome alternative to customers willing to pay a premium for what they perceive to be a safer, more environmentally acceptable service. But demand for these services remains marginal in most U.S. markets, as least compared to traditional service. And evidence suggests, apart from some progressive U.S. regions, it isn’t significantly growing in spite of media reports heralding the new “green” era that we’re supposedly entering.
Results and price rule
The majority of professional lawn care services customers in the United States (a large majority) look at two things in regards to the lawn care program they select — 1.) results in terms of a green, weed-free lawn and 2.) price. If these two factors are satisfactory to them, they’re satisfied. We can only surmise from this that they see the service as being essentially safe and not harmful to the environment .
. . . At least presently that's the case.
This of course could change but not so much as a result of the companies that promote and deliver organic services who generally rely upon marketing rather than political action in seeking competitive advantages in their markets.
The threat to traditional lawn care in the United States, will come, has it always has, from individuals and organizations pooling resources and initiating well-organized campaigns directed against the use of synthetic pesticides and, in some cases, synthetic fertilizers. Generally these efforts start locally aimed at attracting positive publicity and generating public support. If these efforts gain traction and attract supporters and funds, the next step is to pressure local or regional lawmakers to bend to their will. While property owners may appreciate the results they get from lawn care companies, it's not often that they join with service providers to vigorously defend the use of the products that deliver these results.
Canada serves as an example of what can happen. Three Canadian provinces — Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick — have essentially banned the use of traditional lawn care products absent of any groundswell of support by the public for their lawn care service providers.
While it might be prudent for lawn care companies, including big companies such as TruGreen (Natural Nutrient Program) and Spring Green, to offer organic services, they realize that more than 90% of U.S. lawn care customers want green weed-free lawns at a reasonable price, and see traditional chemical services in a positive, non-threatening light — at least that’s been the history of lawn care and remains the case across the United States market. — Ron Hall