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Taking the road to sustainability

Sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well-being, which has ecological, economic, political and cultural dimensions


January 17, 2022
By Mike Jiggens


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By balancing people, planet and profit, the road toward sustainability can be paved. Photo credit: © Gustavofrazao / Adobe Stock

Sustainability” is a term heard more often today than ever before. The word has been applied to a plethora of industries, from energy to agriculture, and is also a buzz word in the professional turfgrass maintenance industry.

To take on a more sustainable approach in the turf industry, professionals must operate with a series of evaluation elements in place, says John Bladon, principal with The Chimera Group, a management, communications and consulting firm based in Guelph, Ont.

Speaking last winter at the virtually-delivered Ontario Turfgrass Symposium, Bladon said sustainability initiatives require the reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands – the three Es of sustainability – but he prefers to consider the three Ps: people, plant and profit.

“If we can balance those three requirements, oftentimes we’re going to find ourselves charting a sustainable course or sustainable path,” he said.

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The planet and people – or community – are much more at the forefront, and much of the world tends to focus primarily on them, Bladon said, adding profit will follow. He cautioned, however, that dollars and cents tend to dictate everything, and it’s important not to lose sight of people and planet. We need to not only consider the price we’re paying, but the cost of what we’re doing, he noted.

In ecology, sustainability is how a biological system remains diverse and productive over time. Among human beings, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well-being, which has ecological, economic, political and cultural dimensions. 

To move toward a more sustainable approach, there is need to operate with a series of evaluation elements in place, Bladon said, adding we must ask ourselves if something is sustainable and what kind of change is warranted.

Adopting a “measure it to manage it” strategy is a more reliable method for management or purchasing than by guessing, he said, recommending the “externalities,” or secondary and tertiary elements that accompany the things we do, be reviewed. Externalities can number from the few to the thousands and can include the ways products are packaged, such as in plastic or paper, or whether or not bleach or dye are involved.

Externality awareness
Being aware of the externalities associated with a decision is imperative, Bladon said. He recalled an American friend of his had influenced his golf club to purchase electric golf cars as a means of moving away from emissions-producing gasoline-powered cars. Bladon reminded his friend that electricity generated in his state was derived from burning coal.

“It’s those secondary elements tied to any decision that can impact not just us, but the waste we produce.”

By using data and other elements, biases can be diminished when trying to make better decisions. It’s a directive that applies to all sectors of the turfgrass industry, he said.

Businesses that are “future fit” create value while ideally increasing the possibility that humanity and other life on earth will continue to flourish. Their goals are to reduce and refine energy use, increase the amount of responsibly sourced water, reduce waste and water use, and increase the utility of land and assets. Such businesses also increase the amount of responsibly managed resources, contribute to the resilience of communities, safeguard the health of employees and provide them with a living wage, conduct business ethically, integrate procurement standards, and build financial assets to protect their future fitness.

Within the European turfgrass industry, hardscapes in many areas are being replaced with turf, allowing for ground water to be filtered and temperatures softened, especially in heavily populated areas. 

“It’s certainly a sustainable choice,” Bladon said.

Collected turf clippings and compost present revenue and reuse opportunities, and, when collected at the right time of year, capture weed seeds and improve the stand of turf.

Bladon encouraged his audience not to discount their power as product purchasers, suggesting they can promote sustainable change. They can inquire about the type of packaging used for necessary products, and perhaps select those that use non-bleached paper and cardboard, plant-based plastics and biodegradable printing dyes.

Sustainability is as much an attitude as it is a structure-based approach, he said, and it starts with the operations and properties being managed, including golf courses, sports fields, and residential and commercial landscapes.

Turfgrass professionals must be able to effectively communicate with their superiors using language they understand, Bladon said.

“That may not be agronomy and it might not be the all the things we commonly discuss and often get excited about as professionals. We need to navigate to the language they understand to keep them on board with what we’re looking to accomplish.”

“We are also trying to foster a greater understanding of what we are trying to accomplish with our direct reports and others. You’re really developing components that are part of an experience and maximizing engagement.”