(Beyond Pesticides, March 18, 2010) The potential sell-out of Earth Day to the world’s largest professional lawn and landscape company – TruGreen – has created such a backlash in the environmental community that Earth Day Network, organizers of national Earth Day events are being pressed to reconsider their sponsorship agreement with the company. According to a March 10th press release, TruGreen announced its partnership with Earth Day Network, claiming to be the exclusive U.S. “organic and sustainable lawn and landscape care sponsor” of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
In response, activists created a Facebook page dedicated to stopping the sponsorship, which garnered over 250 fans in less than two days, with comments continually pouring in. The sponsorship has been taken down from Earth Day Networks website, and some internet activists have posted that Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network, has retracted the sponsorship. However, an email to Beyond Pesticides that had initially confirmed that TruGreen has no affiliation with Earth Day Network has been retracted. Communications Director Jennifer Resick said that the statement was premature and that the group at this time has no official comment regarding the sponsorship or affiliation to Earth Day Network.
Important Update, March 22, 2010 – Beyond Pesticides received the following statement from Earth Day Network regarding their sponsorship agreement with TruGreen: “Earth Day Network had previously announced an educational sponsorship with TruGreen in respect to organic and sustainable lawn and landscape care. Due to unanticipated events, Earth Day Network and TruGreen regrettably announce their relationship for the 40th anniversary event has been suspended. TruGreen continues to respect the commitment Earth Day Network is making to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and Earth Day Network recognizes TruGreen’s efforts on behalf of organic and sustainable lawn and land care.”
So is TruGreen planning to reduce the hazardous synthetic materials used in chemical-intensive lawn care in a meaningful way? In the past, under pressure from activists and shareholders, TruGreen has taken steps toward pesticide reduction, but at the time, it was not nearly enough to warrant praise from the environmental or organic community.
For the Earth Day sponsorship, the company was suggesting to homeowners ten sustainable lawn care tips that it says qualifies it for Earth Day Network’s Billion Acts of Green initiative for commitment to acts of environmental service. While the use of 100% organic fertilizer is included in this list, there is no mention of pesticides, and tip number 10, the very last one, states: “I will read and follow all lawn care product instructions for proper usage and disposal of unused product.”
It’s important to note that on the TruGreen’s website, there is no mention of reducing chemical pesticides, and that there are two different lawn care programs offered, “TruPerformance” and “TruNatural.” Additionally, not all branches offer all services. The TruNatural option also does not cover weed control, stating that, “Because there is no 100% natural weed control, this service is offered to our TruNatural customers only on a case by case basis at the request of the homeowner. Please call your TruGreen Lawn Specialist if you have questions.”
Perhaps the company was the only lawn care sponsor on the bill for Earth Day; however, there is no evidence from any of the information documented on the website that TruGreen will be providing an actual organic service, as they claim in their press release. In the nature of full chemical disclosure, Beyond Pesticides has asked TruGreen to fill out a Safety Source for Pest Management survey. A representative said that they are working on filling it out and sending it back, at which point we will be sure to post to our website.
Organic lawn care companies and “all-natural” services have been sprouting up across the country due to the increasing marketplace for “environmentally friendly” alternatives. While this is a great testament to the power of the movement, it also opens the door to fraudulent and misleading claims on all fronts. Sustainability claims that ignore standards of soil health and continued hazardous chemical use are dangerous distractions from the urgent global environmental and health need to transition to truly sustainable organic approaches to pesticide management.
It is ultimately the responsibility of the consumer to determine the validity of the companies’ claims. Here is what you can do:
1) Do not simply take the company’s marketing claims at face value; find out what products (and their active ingredients) will be used — they will speak for themselves. Contact Beyond Pesticides if you need help with this.
2) Investigate the toxicity and environmental effects of each ingredient. You can search for information on the active ingredients at Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Gateway Page. Many products contains a small percentage of the organic or less-toxic alternative mixed with a large percentage of synthetic, petroleum-based fertilizer. Be cautious of the word “natural” and other claims that can’t be substantiated.
3) Question the service people you contact. When a service provider asserts that he or she has an alternative lawn care or indoor pest control service, find out the specifics of their program – an integrated pest management program is only as good as the principles of the person providing it. It is important to know the components of a good IPM program. Here are a few questions to get you started:
”¢ What products do they consider acceptable?
”¢ Do they monitor for pests (good) or spray on a fixed schedule (bad)?
”¢ Do they attempt to determine the cause of a pest problem and fix it (good) or do they treat the symptoms only (bad)?
”¢ Do they perform yearly soil tests?
”¢ Do they keep records of their monitoring results?
”¢ What training do they have in alternative services?
”¢ Is most of their business is chemically-based programs or alternative ones?
Make sure you read the fine print on any contract or literature: some companies will choose to use “plant protection chemicals” (pesticides) if a “special situation” arises. Get what you want in writing, and hold them to their commitment.
For additional information, see Beyond Pesticides’ guide on how to talk to service providers, and look at our Lawns and Landscaping page for ideas on how to improve your lawn without the use of toxic chemicals.
1. Contact Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network and thank her for her decision to disallow the takeover of Earth Day by chemical-intensive lawn care companies.
2. Contact TruGreen and ask them how they are planning to reduce their pesticide usage for their landcare services, and urge them to switch to an organic, holistic system.
2. Get involved: Refuse to Use ChemLawn is a campaign headed by Toxics Action Center and Pesticide Watch dedicated to putting pressure on TruGreen to stop using toxic pesticides. You can take the pledge here.