Business Brains

Scotts Miracle-Gro believes lawns aren't just ornaments (Water Wednesday)

Posting in Cities

Research with environmental groups helps lead to pledge to ban phosphorous by the end of 2012.

Contributor’s Note: This is an ongoing column in water sustainability, consumption and management issues. The rationale is simple: water is a more urgent priority for corporate social responsibility programs and becoming more so every day.

When you get into environmental debates, lawns are one of those topics that tend to polarize.

On the one hand, some believe it is a luxury item that can water-stress and leach harmful chemicals into aquifers and watersheds. Others see them as vital for controlling and filtering run-off. It all depends on where in the world you happen to be, of course, so that is one reason that Scotts Miracle-Gro has been aligning itself with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profit groups that have an interest in water quality and supply issues. These relationships have helped shape the company's policies, including its decision to eliminate phosphorous from all its lawn maintenance products by the end of 2012.

"Getting engaged with the non-profit world is important when you are talking about environmental causes," said Richard Shank, chief environment officer for Scotts Miracle-Gro and senior vice president for regulatory officers. "They are driving legislation and policy. If you can find common ground with them, you can come up with solutions that work for everybody."

Most of Scotts Miracle-Gro's sustainability strategy activity -- at least vis a vis its external outreach -- are center on water quality issues. Three of the company's most strategic partners in this regard are the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Alliance for the Great Lakes and (more recently) The River Network. One of its first projects was focused on research into the impact fertilizers and nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay. That research was one factor behind Scotts Miracle-Gro's evolving phosphorous strategy, Shank said. (For more on what guides Shank's philosophy, read his SmartPlanet interview from April.)

Aside from eliminating chemicals that are potentially hazardous or detrimental to sensitive watersheds, the company (which will be 150 years old in 2018) is developing initiatives to study the impact of using native plants and landscaping in managing water scarcity. This is especially critical as American society becomes more urbanized and the potential for devastating run-off and flooding increases exponentially, according to the Scotts Miracle-Gro environmental team.

Look for more information in the near future about the company's initial partnership efforts with The River Network, which will focus on an initiative in the San Francisco Bay Area.

At least some of the people reading this are probably thinking, cynically, that the reason Scotts Miracle-Gro is teaming with non-profit organizations is to get them to back off on certain issues. This is a common refrain whenever I write about any business that is teaming up with the non-profit world on some sort of environmental initiative.

While I am not naive enough to think that Scotts Miracle-Gro's motives are entirely altruistic, the fact is all businesses need to get on the ball with respect to sustainability issues like these. I challenge you to name a single environmental organization that hasn't forged closer ties with Corporate America in the past two years. Seriously, if you can find one, I'd love to ask it why, because now more than ever, we need to work together, not at cross purposes. It's probably the only thing that will shock policy-makers into doing something meaningful.

Past Water Wednesday posts:

Share this

Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure