The concept of environmental sustainability has been popular for years. Just about all businesses, companies, and organizations talk about their commitment to the environment as part of their core values and principles. However, it’s still rare to find a company that has truly woven sustainability into the fabric of its business.
DeSantis Landscapes, based in Salem, Oregon, is a notable exception.
“Our tagline is ‘create beauty, respect nature,’” said Dean DeSantis, owner of DeSantis Landscapes. “I think that summarizes who we are as a company.”
How It All Started
During an annual strategic planning session back in 2005, a consultant asked the DeSantis Landscapes‘ staff what was important to them personally.
“When our team started talking about personal passions, nearly everyone focused on things like organic food, hiking, and a love for other outdoor activities,” DeSantis said. “Our consultant encouraged us to embrace our personal passions as part of our company mission, and that’s what really began our now 15-year journey toward being as sustainable as possible.”
Over the years, DeSantis Landscapes has focused its sustainability efforts on three main areas: shrinking its carbon footprint, reduction of chemical usage, and water conservation.
Bringing Customers Onboard
With all of its customer base located in Oregon, known as an environmentally focused state, DeSantis Landscapes found a great deal of support for its sustainable practices.
One of its largest customers, a private property owner of a historic estate, welcomed DeSantis Landscapes’ desire to make their property more sustainable. The company scaled down the owners’ lawn, planted more native greenery that required less water, switched to natural fertilizers and pest control, and increased mulching and container planting. In 2007, the property was featured in an article published by Sunset Magazine, a publication focusing on home and garden lifestyles unique to the western United States.
“Over the years, we’ve done many other similar customer conversions,” DeSantis said. “For example, we converted all the flower beds for Burgerville, a regional burger chain, from annual plants to perennial ones.
This simple change reduced the irrigation needed and chemical treatments required.”
Goal One: Decrease Emissions
One of the first things that DeSantis Landscapes focused on was reducing its emissions and overall carbon footprint by switching to biodiesel fuel and electric equipment.
“We were the first landscaping company in Portland to use electrical equipment on our property,” said Joey Harrison, director of business development and marketing at DeSantis Landscapes. “We actually participated in a pilot program with Oregon Tools that was experimenting with different electric equipment and field applications as part of an international campaign focused on launching a new electric equipment line.”
Goal Two: Reduce Chemical Usage
A second area of focus for DeSantis Landscapes was to reduce the chemical usage in terms of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides as much as possible.
“We’re extremely focused on soil health and water quality,” Harrison said. “Those two factors are of the utmost importance to the health of plants and to our overall environment. In Oregon, we have many vegetative swales, which are essentially special ditches that collect rainwater runoff. Wetland-type plants are used around the swales to help filter the water through the soil before it goes back into our streams. It’s really important to us to reduce the chemicals that end up in those swales.”
Over the years, DeSantis Landscapes has tried a wide variety of natural and organic products. “Unfortunately, many of these products just knocked the grass back a bit. But since they were contact herbicides, they didn’t kill the roots, and the weeds came right back.”
Last summer, DeSantis Landscapes started testing a naturally organic herbicide from EcoMight. This product is specially formulated with natural oils to absorb into the roots of the plants.
“Many of our old-school applicators were skeptical,” Harrison said. “They just didn’t think it would work. However, we were all blown away with how well EcoMIGHT performed. In fact, when the temperatures were high, EcoMIGHT performed better than glyphosate.
“With all the news coverage about Roundup, people in Portland are particularly concerned,” Harrison said. “A lot of clients ask about it over the years. We’re excited to be able to have an alternative that is safer for our applicators, customers, and their visitors. One bonus is that EcoMight smells like a spa!”
DeSantis adds that he knows there’s a lot of conflicting information about glyphosate. “I know the U.S. EPA says the product is safe, and it’s the industry standard to use glyphosate in the landscaping business,” DeSantis said. “At the same time, I see these big court cases and applicators claiming they are being harmed. I guess where we land is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. I prefer that my applicators and staff err on the side of caution. In our market, we desire to be as glyphosate-free as possible. We were super excited to find EcoMIGHT; we’ve never seen this level of efficacy in an organic product.”
Goal Three: Conserve Water
Over the last year, DeSantis Landscapes has become a premier partner with WeatherMatic, the world’s leader in smart water technology. WeatherMatic offers onsite weather stations that can adjust an irrigation system’s performance based on pinpoint rain accumulation and specific property soil types.
“Many of our local commercial buildings have antiquated irrigation systems,” Harrison said. “Everyone’s done things like changed out their light bulbs to LED, but water usage simply hasn’t been the focus. We found that smart-based technology can result in a 30 percent to 40 percent water savings for large office complexes.”
Smart controls automatically send alerts when something in the irrigation system malfunctions. “That means we know when there’s a problem before plants start dying,” Harrison said. “We also avoid all-night geysers.”
DeSantis said that his company has already converted 30 percent of its customers to this new smart water technology with more to come. “We’re really focused on better water management and using that resource more strategically and sustainably by employing smart controller technology.”
Bringing It All Together: The Moda Center in Rose Quarter
DeSantis Landscapes is responsible for all the landscaping at the famous Moda Center in Rose Quarter. This $267 million multipurpose arena is the home to the NBA Portland Trail Blazers and the WHL Portland Winter Hawks. The facility also hosts a wide variety of concerts, family shows, and other sporting events throughout the year.
“What a lot of people don’t know about the Moda Center is that it’s 100 percent organic,” Harrison said. “They are the first sports complex in the world to have earned the LEED Platinum Status from the U.S. Green Building Council.”
The Rose Quarter is an entire district of Portland that focused on sustainability in terms of their buildings, landscapes, and bike trails. The city, community, and business leaders collaborate to make the area as sustainable as possible.
“The Moda Center has an arrangement with its waste haulers to compost the facility’s food waste, biodegradable utensils, plates and cups and turn all of that into compost mulch that is used at the facility the following year,” Harrison said. “In the past, it was a challenge to keep the big weeds down without using any chemicals. EcoMight will allow us to control weeds at the Moda Center easily, safely and responsibly.”
As sustainability continues to be an important focus for our world’s future, leaders such as DeSantis Landscapes. DeSantis Landscapes can inspire other companies and organizations to follow suit. Regardless of your industry, going the extra mile for your employees, customers and community takes commitment and investment. However, high-caliber environmental stewardship by organizations like DeSantis Landscapes and customers like the Moda Center illustrate the amazing solutions that can be discovered and effectively implemented for the benefit of us all
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