It’s an election year, and there’s a lot of uncertainty in today’s marketplace. While the economy is slowly plodding along, we don’t know exactly where we’re going to be a year from now, we don’t know when the next recession will hit, we don’t know how new technologies will continue to effect the job market.
“Because of uncertainty, there are many firms in the Green Industry today that are kind of content with the status quo. They may be holding back on investment,” said economist Charlie Hall, a professor with the Department of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University, during his mid-year economic outlook. “You’ve got a situation where folks are very reluctant to pull that trigger on making strategic investments in their business.”
But it’s important to take that uncertainty with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of opportunities and good news coming for horticultural industries. In fact, while times might be uncertain now, the future is bright — and green — thanks to a variety of factors coming into play.
1. Immigration Views are Changing.
Though current political rhetoric regarding immigration is divisive, polls now show that most American views on immigration are more inclusive. Even more conservative polls show that the vast majority of Americans are against mass deportation of illegal immigrants, and roughly 60 percent oppose building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. That’s good news, because our future economy and housing market will rely heavily on immigration. In fact, by 2028, most American cities will look like today’s Houston, ethnically-speaking.
“A lot of our population growth over the next 20 years is related to our immigration policy. We need that population growth. You only have to look at Russia, the former Soviet Union, to see how that entire economy unraveled because of demographics. … They didn’t have enough young people for their infrastructure,” Hall said, adding that the same thing could happen here were we to close our borders. “The strongest growth in our economy occurs with comprehensive immigration reform.”
2. Millennials Are Growing Up.
Our country’s 77 million Baby Boomers have been retiring for years now, and are continuing to retire at the rate of about 10,000 per day. For years, this has caused a bit of a slump for our industry, as Boomers have been influencing our industry since the 1950s. As Boomers have left the workforce, we’ve leaned on Generation Xers as our main customer base — but there are 11 million fewer of them, which has decreased the size of our market.
Fortunately, there are 92 million Millennials, all of who are now finally reaching adulthood, and the oldest of who are 35 years old. Millennials are the most debt-saddled generation in history — having taken on $1.3 trillion in student loan debt — and they are buying homes and starting families later in life than their predecessors. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t buying homes, or that they even need to buy to influence the industry.
3. Millennial Values Are Green.
There’s a lot to be said about the ways in which Millennials are different from the generations before them — and many of those differences are positive for the commercial landscaping industry and green industries. They support businesses committed to social and environmental causes. They’ve shown an affinity toward both edible gardening and environmental conservation. Millennials want to live in more urban environments, which might mean fewer home sales. But they also value walkable cities and shared experiences, so it also means more parks and better public spaces.
Millennials, accustomed to the conveniences afforded to them by technology, also want to be able to work from anywhere — whether it’s from home, in a shared co-working space, in a park, or elsewhere. Businesses wanting to attract Millennials must invest in their beautifying, improving and greening their work spaces, as shown by progressive companies such as Amazon and Google. Basically, Millennials value work-life balance and have shown that they are willing to spend their money on experiences that improve their quality of life, or the quality of the world.
4. Studies Show Quality of Life Benefits
Researchers during the last decade have produced study after study showing just how important trees, plants, green landscaping and access to nature is to our quality of life. Not only is landscaping beautiful and relaxing, but studies have shown that trees and plants in urban settings promote exercise and community-building by encouraging people to go outdoors and providing shade in summer months. Other studies have shown that walking in a more natural setting decreases more stress than walking in a setting without trees and plants.
In fact, you don’t even have to go outdoors to reap the benefits from trees and green spaces; studies have shown that just looking at nature — trees, flowers, water — for a few minutes reduces anger, anxiety, blood pressure and muscle tension. Green spaces around inner-city Chicago apartment complexes have been shown to reduce violent crime by 56 percent. Trees along streets reduce noise from traffic, speeding and road rage. In hospitals, patients who are placed in rooms with a view of trees and green spaces have shortened post-operative stays than patients without those views. In workplaces, biophillic-based landscapes can reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and improve employee satisfaction. One study showed that “10 percent of employee absences can be attributed to architecture with no connection to nature.” And for students, exposure to trees and green spaces can reduce ADHD and improve standardized testing results, among other benefits.
5. Landscaping Opportunities are Skyrocketing
When our industry first started, landscaping was largely a residential pursuit as homeowners wanted to maintain and improve their yards. But social changes and technological and scientific advances in the industry now allow us to create green spaces and infrastructures in spaces that have traditionally been hardscaped: office complexes, transportation corridors, shopping and retail complexes are all now reaping the benefits of greenspaces. Not only that, but we’re no longer limited to landscaping along the horizon. Green walls and green roofs allow for landscaping in more compact and vertical spaces, and visionary designers and architects are using those technologies and advancements to create self-sustainable, energy-producing structures that will redefine the way we live.
6. The World Needs Us
Incorporating trees and plants into urban and commercial landscapes obviously helps improves air and water quality. Not only do trees store carbon dioxide, our primary greenhouse gas, in their stems and leaves until it is released again as oxygen, but a mature tree can also absorb up to 240 pounds of air pollution particles — dirt, dust and soot — each year. Of course, our growing urban populations require more trees; it takes two medium-sized trees to release enough oxygen for one person.
But trees, plants and sustainable landscaping are good for solving other environment-related problems, too. A mature tree can absorb up to 100 gallons of water during a large storm, and more water can be absorbed by neighboring plants and soil, making softscapes and green infrastructure essential in urban areas that experience stormwater run-off and flooding. Sustainable landscaping and green infrastructure can also decrease energy costs, reduce soil erosion, increase biodiversity and create wildlife habitats.
Uncertainty Is Opportunity
Commercial landscaping companies should be looking forward to the future — but the future is already here. Despite the economic uncertainty, more people are taking on mortgage debt and people are spending more today than they did prior to the recession. "People will buy health and well-being," Hall said. "People afford the things they want."
"I tend to view uncertainty not just as inertia, but I think it's a time for opportunity," Hall said during is mid-year economic outlook, adding that 25 percent of people have paid for landscaping services already — meaning that the industry has the potential to quadruple when the other 75 percent begin making purchases.
But the industry does have some marketing work to do to show and educate people on the massive difference between what a world with landscaping looks like and what a world without it looks like.
"We are in the quality-of-life business. We have just been the last to tell people," Hall said during a breakout session at the Texas Nursery and Landscaping Association's Nursery/Landscape Expo. "The medical field has done a stellar job at telling people how great we are. The architectural field has done a stellar job at telling people how great we are. We are the last people tell people how great we are. We are going to have to change that a little bit."