Around the Table By Darhiana Mateo

Growers across the country are carefully weighing the costs and benefits of becoming certified as sustainable. As the industry charges toward a more sustainable future, big growers are fast approaching a crossroads: Do they ride the wave of sustainability or help lead it by going the extra mile and being recognized as sustainably certified by their customers and vendors?

How would this recognition really impact their bottom line?

Are the potential rewards even worth the effort? Read on to hear some diverse — and refreshingly candid — answers.

Are you currently taking any steps to become certified as sustainable?

"Last year, we were thinking it was the right thing to do. I requested an application. [Other] certifications cost nothing but timeÉand give us and our employees and our customers a good sense of well-being and caring for the environment and society. After more study, I view the proposed ornamental horticultural certification program as a bureaucratic waste and duplication of processes. The high costs offer too little short- or long-term benefit." — Rick Brown

"No, we are not currently taking steps toward certification. We, as a company, are actively pursuing all avenues of sustainability except certification." — Tammy Burdzinksi

"Yes, we are. Because we believe it to be the correct way to go. It also makes us look inside from the outside and improve our practices and procedures." — Richard Wilson

What are some of the biggest rewards of going through the certification process?

"The reward for certification could be keeping our big box vendor numbers. It will not increase sales. This waste of dollars for an unnecessary mandatory certification and labeling is not clearly warranted as an action toward sustainability." — Rick Brown

"We are researching the cost benefit of certification." — Tammy Burdzinski

"Being able to identify what we are currently doing correctly and in what area(s) we need to bolster and/or correct so we can move forward with sustainability." — Richard Wilson

How should big growers factor into the formation of a national standard?

"The published standard requires you to strive to grow organic whenever possible, swear off GMOs and certain pesticides, as well as embrace unions when they're present, increase your employee wages and benefits, and give a percentage of your profit to charities and hospitals. Growers have voiced these impositions as objectionable. The exercise in meeting to strike this objectionable language from the proposed standard is just that. The SCS folksÉplan to strike this language. They want the growers' money and support now, so they plan to reduce the initial requirements to the lowest common denominator hoping to certify the highest percentage of growers." — Rick Brown

"As a responsible horticulture company, we have and will continue to strive to do the best thing for the consumer purchasing our plants, the environment, and the health of our company." — Tammy Burdzinski

"I do not know how much time it would take, but minimally [they should fill out] some form of a questionnaire." — Richard Wilson

Do you think big boxes will ever require their vendors to be certified as sustainable to continue doing business?

"We are already fully liable for any harm to the environment, our workers and the consumer. I hope the big boxes give us credit for compliance, sustainable practices and stewardship of the landÉand don't force us toward a certification that has questionable value." — Rick Brown

"No, not in the near future. We anticipate this to be an issue within the next two years." — Tammy Burdzinski

"No, not the near future, [given that] they have to be certified sustainable first before they can require it from their vendors." — Richard Wilson

Do you know of any big growers that are currently undergoing certification? What feedback have you gotten?

"I know of other growers who have received applications, and some are in various stages in the process. But I think most are like us, in a 'wait and see' status. It is time consuming and expensive but relatively easy to get certified and agree to compliance with a standard that does not yet exist." — Rick Brown

"Yes. We've heard mixed reviews." — Tammy Burdzinski

"No, we do not know of any growers currently going through a certification process." — Richard Wilson

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Darhiana Mateo

Darhiana Mateo is associate editor of GPN's Big Grower. She can be reached at [email protected] or (847) 391-1013.

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GPN recognizes 40 industry professionals under the age of 40 who are helping to determine the future of the horticulture industry. These individuals are today’s movers and shakers who are already setting the pace for tomorrow.

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