St. Louis businesses use biodiversity to improve their footprint
Do boardroom and budget talks that value green measures stop dead when someone brings up biodiversity? Not in St. Louis.
In 2013, the Missouri Botanical Garden began the BiodiverseCity St. Louis initiative, a community-wide program to promote, protect and plan for biodiversity throughout the Greater St. Louis Region. As part of the program, the Missouri Botanical Garden added this topic to the scorecard used by companies in the St. Louis Green Business Challenge, the sustainable business practice program we have delivered since 2010 in partnership with the St. Louis Regional Chamber.
30 percent of the 80 companies in our most recent challenge class chose to address this new focus. Their inspiring results were practical, innovative and diverse.
Motivations for businesses to engage with biodiversity initiatives range from regulatory compliance to achieving social responsibility goals, with economic factors constantly in play. Although some cities in the U.S. and abroad are establishing biodiversity policies with associated regulations, nearly all of the St. Louis efforts so far have been voluntary.Biodiversity projects can help companies improve customer satisfaction, employee morale, operation costs and regulatory compliance. We've seen projects that redirect and reduce site maintenance needs, resulting in cost-savings. We've seen projects that improve environmental performance, especially relating to stormwater and pesticide management. Several help attract and retain talent, fostering a healthier, happier workforce. Many present a competitive distinction for consumers. All of them model leadership in the community and among business peers as well as cultivating community-building partnerships and goodwill.
In addition to these benefits, biodiversity practices call for landscape and building maintenance specializations that can grow new business for companies in these sectors.
While cost-benefit or cost-neutral results are still notable exceptions, rather than the norm, St. Louis Green Challenge participants exemplify opportunities in every motivational area.
Employee-owned Graybar transformed the grounds of its St. Louis corporate headquarters. The switch from conventional turf to swaths of pollinator-friendly native grasses and wildflowers cut landscaping water use from 2.5 million to just over 1 million gallons per year. Although they are paying low water rates at St. Louis facilities (64 percent of national average for commercial accounts and 69 percent of U.S. industrial average, according to the St. Louis Regional Chamber), Graybar’s experience illustrates that this type of project can translate to significant savings at locations in arid and drought-stricken areas.
A biodiversity-minded geographic information systems expert with Kozeny-Wagner, a Saint Louis commercial construction firm, challenged himself to develop an app that would analyze biodiversity patterns through site photographs in order to inform the construction management process. This kind of data — especially if used in concert with a property owner’s green values — can prevent habitat destruction that might result in fines, owner issues or even legal action.
Serving both P2 and biodiversity needs
When parking lot renovations came due at the Missouri Botanical Garden, our green infrastructure investments protected against future sewer utility rate hikes, created a new educational feature and brought the Garden’s beauty out to spaces where visitors receive their first impression of our grounds.We installed several technologies to prevent stormwater runoff. These include areas of porous concrete, asphalt and pavers; a 9-block long porous rubber sidewalk; and native-planted rain gardens. These treatment areas are configured to capture 100 percent of runoff from 90 percent of St. Louis rain events (1.14 inches or less in a 24-hour period).
These demonstrations not only save us money and prevent stormwater pollution, they also show our visitors that these new technologies work. Which of all these strategies do Garden staff say works best? The winners are the bio-retention features, which use native plants to hold runoff, while reducing landscape maintenance needs and their associated costs.
Family ties and professional skills are changing the landscape at Bemes, Inc., a medical equipment supply, repair and service company. The warehouse and office facility grounds are bordered by a thriving row of native bald cypress trees that anchor runoff capture in a bioswale hopping with insects and birds.
This installation not only prevents stormwater pollution, but also mirrors other owner values. Bemes’s president often cycles 30 miles one-way to work, and his wife is a landscape designer and volunteer contributor who is steadily replacing the company’s conventional shrub beds with a native plant-based functional ecology.
Nature meets regulated demands
The staff at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport includes two USDA experts who are responsible for keeping the 28,000-acre property free from birds that threaten passenger safety around jet engines. Lambert’s Green Team satisfied both strict regulations and natural leanings by contracting with a beekeeper to install and maintain bee yards on airport perimeter property.
In summer 2013, Lambert joined Chicago O’Hare and Seattle’s Sea-Tac airports as host to hundreds of thousands of honeybees that can forage in areas managed without pesticides. The partnership protects both travelers and pollinators.
Corporate Social Responsibility branches outTo celebrate 50 years in business, and help sustain the next 50, Enterprise Holdings launched their 50 Million Tree Pledge in 2006. This partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service works in U.S. and Canadian national forests to restore areas damaged by fires, storms and disease, and to expand and preserve habitats for indigenous and endangered species. By the end of 2013, 8 million trees had been planted toward the company’s 50-year goal.
IMPACT Day is a national day of volunteer service for all Deloitte employees. Through the Challenge, the St. Louis Deloitte Green Team linked up with the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance to offer an enviro-project option: removing bush honeysuckle. This invasive plant crowds out natives and reproduces rampantly, devastating biodiversity.
Ameren, the St. Louis region’s investor-owned electric utility, has had a long relationship with the World Bird Sanctuary. This internationally respected local non-profit educates thousands of people each year about birds of prey and their importance to healthy ecosystems. They also rehabilitate injured raptors.
In addition to contributing sponsorships, Ameren has partnered with World Bird experts to evaluate use of flight diverters where bald eagle nests are near overhead transmission lines, and to install, observe and protect nesting boxes for peregrine falcons and other raptor species.
Growing employee health and engagement
Covering 174 acres on both sides of an interstate highway, the Maritz corporate campus is a lot to keep up. Property managers have help from unusual sources, including beekeeper employees who voluntarily tend clusters of thriving hives and a local farmer who leases acreage to grow organic pumpkins, corn and other high value crops.
Extensive walking trails support the employee wellness program as they ramble through shady groves, past ornamental and memorial gardens and around a vast and vibrantly biodiverse constructed wetland that doubles as a stormwater retention system.Atop an historic downtown St. Louis building, plant-savvy architects at the Lawrence Group have grown a roof patio into a human and pollinator haven. Raised beds, designed on wheels to complement social and meeting spaces, produce organic vegetables, fragrant herbs and vivid flowering natives. Next step in their biodiversity dance: break room composting.
Leveraging employee interests and skills
The biodiversity tab of the St. Louis Green Challenge scorecard defines points for the following six items: educating staff and vendors about biodiversity importance and potentials, analyzing landholdings and features of neighboring property, evaluating building and site features, identifying and leveraging internal resources, monitoring on-site biodiversity factors and generating a biodiversity case study.
Working with these guidelines, a Green Team is encouraged to survey fellow employees. Is anyone a birder, gardener or beekeeper? Who’s in Stream Team, Master Naturalist, Monarch Watch, Treekeepers or other citizen scientist programs?
A CAD designer at Abeinsa, an engineering unit of Abengoa Bioenergy, applied her personal interest in sustainable landscape discipline permaculture as she led an analysis of the property around their companies’ neighboring buildings. A joint case study presented to the company’s property management firm included maps, photos, diagrams, plant lists and native plant-based recommendations. The report addressed parking garage flooding issues and proposed planting strategies around a stormwater retention pond, which would beautify a walking trail while ecologically deterring pest species.
Employees of Missouri American Water have added recycled native-bee shelters to a walking path around their grounds after being inspired by these features at home. Their Green Team is developing plans to boost native plantings and convert a large high-maintenance turf area into a demonstration rain garden. This fall, they host a Green Challenge bird-banding experience, which will be overseen by World Bird Sanctuary experts as part of collaborations using avian populations to track watershed vitality.
Defining biodiversity standards
Landscape architecture firm SWT Design works on a compact site with pervious hardscapes and native plantings in all perimeter beds and a bioswale doubling as an ornamental streambed beneath elevated walkways. These features serve as test plots for the firm’s planning and design services.
SWT’s principals helped to develop the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a new national rating system that extends sustainable landscape design, construction and maintenance standards well beyond those defined by leading green building organizations.
During the SITES pilot period, SWT’s headquarters earned Two-Star Certification and their design and installation for the Novus International corporate campus in St. Louis earned a Three-Star rating. Use of native and adapted plants, water conservation and habitat protection and restoration are core elements of SITES.
SWT’s recent development of the Washington University Campus Tree Master Plan provided the institution with detailed recommendations and an assessment of existing resources, from historic leafy avenues to individual trees growing in isolated building corners. The comprehensive plan roots ecological, cultural and economic values in recommendations for native trees. As a model for urban forest stewardship, this document defines best practices of treescape planning and budgeting and demonstrates how biodiversity factors can limit projected maintenance costs.
More to learn, much to do
These examples represent a small fraction of the nature-specific sustainability projects undertaken by the St. Louis business community, and just a peek at the values at work among even our most green-oriented business leaders. Biodiversity is still sustainability’s fringe cousin, far removed from more mainstream green business concerns.
Biodiversity is an important part of sustainability, but these types of projects are often overlooked by companies looking to improve their environmental footprint. These examples should begin to demystify the connection between biodiversity and more common green business practices. These St. Louis companies show that biodiversity projects simultaneously can build better businesses and more sustainable communities.