While many people choose to handle lawn care on their own, for others it makes sense to hire a company to do the job. Or perhaps you have a large pest problem and you’ll need to hire a pest management company. How do you choose a service provider? More importantly, how do you find one that is going to choose the least toxic methods or products to get the job done?
Some companies claim to be Eco-conscious service providers, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth.
Greenwashing (a compound word modeled on “whitewash”), or “green sheen,” is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.
I was made aware recently of a story about a contractor, with a very green sounding name using anticoagulent baits for a mouse issue in a basement apartment. A neighbor inquired, concerned about her pet and the many other animals that live in the area. The contractor repeatedly stated to her that the bait he was using would not cause secondary poisoning. The neighbor got the name of the product and spoke with the state Pesticide Control office. They sent her the label which clearly states:
“Dogs and predatory and scavenging mammals and birds might be poisoned if they feed upon animals that have eaten this bait.”
She was right to be concerned about the safety of neighborhood cats and dogs, as well as the owls and hawks that frequently hunt in the area. Given the potential hazards of this poison, was it even necessary? The short answer is no. Upon further conversation with the contractor, it was found that he did not seal up entry points, and would not be back at any point to check on the baits or remove them. Even after being read the warning on the label, he continued to maintain that there was no need to worry about the safety of animals in the neighborhood. These are not hallmarks of a provider that is eco-friendly or responsible. A contractor using least toxic methods, would have chosen traps to use and sealed up the entry points the rodents were using.
Using a trap means that a return trip would be necessary to check and dispose of later, and sealing up the places where the rodents were getting in would solve the problem for good, essentially taking away a recurring source of repeat business – things the contractor seeks to avoid – all at the expense of the landlord, tenants and neighborhood animals.
This case of a ten year old boy from Florida should give us all pause. Peyton McCaughey, became seriously ill along with his family after their home was fumigated with sulfuryl fluoride for a termite infestation. You may be literally putting your life in the hands of these providers. What happened to Peyton, never even needed to happen in the first place. A safer alternative of using heat instead of chemical fumigation already exists.
How can we as consumers avoid falling for greenwashing tactics? The following are a few practical tips on what to do and look for when hiring a contractor.
Be Polite. No one is going to respond favorably to you if you swoop in like the Spanish inquisition. However, if you are polite, and someone is hesitant to give you information, that is a red flag, and a signal to move on.
Ask Questions. For lawns, are they following a systems approach with focus on soil health? Or do they use a product centered approach disguised as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’? If the goal is not to build up the soil so that products are not needed in the future, look else where. For pest care providers, make sure they are able to correctly identify the pest you have when they inspect your home. Professionals should know the scientific name of the pest and give it to you so you can search it on your own for more info. Sometimes they will need to take the bug back with them for proper identification which is reasonable. If a contractor comes to your home or business, doesn’t recognize the pest and offers to treat your home anyway – do not let him! Always ask to see the Applicator or Operator’s License of any contractor who comes to your home. And it never hurts to call your local pesticide control division to find out if a company has had any complaints or sanctions.
Products. If it is determined a product must be used: What types of products do they use? Ask for the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on any product before it is to be used. Are all ingredients listed for the product? What options are there? Are they using the lowest risk pesticide for the job?
The Sustainability Knowledge Group, a global advisory firm, offers these tips for consumers to avoid being misled:
Signs of Greenwashing
• Advertisements that misleads with words. The terms used have no clear meaning. What do you mean by eco-friendly, all natural etc?
• Green products vs dirty company. Green products are usually produced by companies with overall sustainable business practices
• The advertisement misleads with visuals and/or graphics. Because the packaging is green it doesn’t mean it is environmentally friendly
• Jargon or too scientific information that is vague, too brood and cannot be easily understood
• Making a green claim about the product without providing any proof to back up that claim
• The advertisement overstates or exaggerates how green it actually is
• The advertisement provides data that is totally fabricated
• Worshiping false labels, claiming that a product is endorsed or certified by a third party when that is not true or the party does not exist
• Hidden Trade off, a product is not green just because it is made out of paper for instance; we have to examine the whole life cycle of the product.
• Lesser than two evils. Claiming to be more sustainable that other similar products, does not make a product sustainable
• The advertisement leaves out important information making any green claim sound better than it is. Is something missing from the ad? Does the ad exist to divert attention from something else that the company is doing? A very good solution to this is to Google the company and find out for yourself what it really does. The internet is an endless source of information and can be very helpful.
Following these suggestions should be helpful in getting you started on the path to finding a reliable and truly green service provider.