Changing Landscapes

Like the North American economy as a whole, the green industry is faced with numerous public policy hurdles in 2008, including climate change, ethanol, emissions and water usage. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) is the major international trade association representing the manufacturers and the suppliers of consumer and commercial landscape machines in the green industry — outdoor power equipment such as lawnmowers, garden tractors, utility vehicles, trimmers, edgers, chainsaws, snow throwers, tillers, leaf blowers and other related products.

The institute is working with the landscape industry’s top manufacturers to tackle these public policy issues. As an industry, the green markets now recognize — and have proof — that responsibly maintained turf grass and outdoor landscapes provide substantial environmental benefits to our communities. It’s become a common goal to do more to educate policy makers and consumers on these issues to balance the political debate and solve the issues facing the landscape industry.

Emissions Regulations

The industry has recently met a major milestone with cleaner machines in the announcement of EPA’s Phase III emissions regulations. OPEI worked cooperatively with the EPA on the emissions regulations and worked to ensure that the new regulations included enforcement authority in order to prevent importation and retail of non-compliant equipment and the ability to certify engines on E10 fuel. Once fully implemented, the outdoor power equipment industry will have reduced emissions by 95 percent in just 15 years since it first became regulated. Although this is a substantial achievement many consumers and political opponents of the green industry are ill-informed on the issue. Unfair emission comparisons continue and OPEI will be forcefully addressing the issue in the coming year.

Meeting Climate Change Head-On

Global climate change and the regulation of greenhouse gases will be a major undertaking in the next Congress. OPEI is committed to meeting this challenge head-on and will work with government agencies to do its part. In the past six months, we’ve explored the carbon issue in more depth.

Dr. Ron Sahu, an independent energy and environment expert, has been asked by the institute to perform a study on the carbon benefit of turf grass based on existing scientific studies and models. The report of his findings, titled “Technical Assessment of the Carbon Sequestration Potential of Managed Turf Grass in the United States” showed us (and the world) what we suspected all along: A net carbon benefit from well-managed turf grasses exists.

There are great opportunities to join the carbon offset debate. Why just plant trees to offset carbon emissions, when you can plant turf grass and have carbon effectively absorbed and sequestered? Cap and trade requirements in climate change legislation could possibly include a carbon credit for removing asphalt and planting turf. OPEI is currently working with Congress on this issue.

In the year ahead, it is paramount to remind our community, government, media and consumers that turf grass has value. Not only does it reduce our carbon footprint and provide a positive oxygen footprint, but turf grass also captures dust and particulate matter, is the best safeguard against water run-off and helps cool areas, especially those marked as “hot spots,” such as commercial roofs and parking lots. Turf grass isn’t just a cosmetic decision, but an environmentally responsible choice in most areas of the country that suffer from too much asphalt and hard surfaces.

Water on the Agenda

Another area of challenge is the issue of water usage. The industry will have to address the use of water and establish best management practices on water use to meet anticipated political activity on this issue.

It is incumbent on the industry to educate the public on what, where and when to plant. It must educate the public on how water is an investment in landscaping and turf grass that then brings comprehensive environmental, health and savings benefits.

Illustrative of the problem is the recent EPA draft proposal for the WaterSense program. A landscaping criteria option for the WaterSense label would restrict a home builder’s turf grass use to 40 percent or less on a home site lot. This would be a national standard, coast to coast, border to border — even those areas not easily prone to drought or water restrictions (e.g. the Pacific Northwest). This program option ignores the comprehensive environmental and water benefits of turf grass use.

OPEI has been working hard with EPA, members of Congress and the USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, among others, to explain why this just doesn’t make good sense. This program can’t be policed or enforced, and it fully ignores the turf grass benefits: carbon absorption and sequestration; the heat island cooling effect (cooling around one’s home to reduce A/C use for energy cost savings); capture and filtration of water run-off and dust/particulate matter; oxygen creation and other environmental benefits.

The industry must educate its customers about the benefits of turf grass while improving the record on water management. Homeowners should know the substantial and comprehensive environmental benefits their lawns and landscapes provide to all of us, and it’s incumbent upon us to tackle this challenge.

The Shifting Ethanol Landscape

The U.S. Congress enacted legislation that mandates substantially more ethanol and cellulosic fuel in the market- place. Greater use of ethanol in gasoline could greatly affect the use and performance of all engine equipment, boats and on- and off-road vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Energy and EPA are currently conducting studies on the effects of greater ethanol use on engines and equipment. Associations representing manufacturers of outdoor power equipment, automobiles, boats, motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles and others have teamed together to form the Alliance for a Safe Alternative Fuels Environment (AllSAFE) — www.allsafe-fuel. org — to address the issue of greater ethanol and cellulosic fuel in the fuels marketplace. AllSAFE’s goal is to protect and educate consumers on the use and effects of ethanol containing fuels and to advocate on behalf of the 250 million Americans who operate some 400 million pieces of legacy equipment before policy makers and regulators.

Deconstructing the Machine Market

Exports Are Up, Rental Is Down and AEM Is There to Cover It

Although construction equipment exports are up 24 percent, compared to
the first half of 2007, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers
(AEM), the industry States-side is still having trouble finding solid market ground.
According to an August survey of rental companies by Longbow research
analyst Eli Lustgarten, demand for construction equipment from rental firms has
weakened since July. Just 29 percent of the contacts at construction equipment
rental firms cited improving demand in August, vs. 35 percent in July.

“The August survey results continue to suggest a difficult near-term outlook for
the construction rental equipment sector, consistent with our outlook for 2008
demand for construction equipment continuing to be weak,” says Lustgarten.

Pricing appears to have deteriorated in the past month. Overall, 48 percent
of contacts reported decreased pricing in August (vs. 35 percent in July and 41
percent in May to June); more importantly, the decreases were more pronounced
with half of those reporting price erosion seeing double-digit declines.

However, purchase intentions were up somewhat in August, as more rental
companies reported plans to increase their purchasing when compared with
our three most recent surveys. The expiration of the increased depreciation
incentives at year-end 2008 may be playing a factor in the change in attitude of
buying in the face of the announced large cuts in capital spending.

The outlook for the next nine to 12 months remains cautious. There was a
sequential increase in neutral expectations for the upcoming year, and positive
expectations fell from 54 percent from May to June, to 44 percent in July and to 42
percent in August following the trend seen over the past few surveys. The survey
focused on firms that rent light to heavy construction machinery, generators,
compressors, heavy-duty construction cranes and aerial work platforms.

Home Base: Education

While our areas of concern continue to broaden, the industry remains focused on safety as its core message. Manufacturers have and remain committed to ensuring their products are used appropriately and safely, working with OPEI to provide consumers with the best and most up-to-date materials.

Now, the institute’s tradition of education and cooperation moves forward to the next great challenges — water, climate change and alternative fuels. OPEI recently announced its sponsorship of a webinar series for agricultural educators in conjunction with the National FFA Foundation. Ranging from topics on global climate change, agricultural policy, turf grass management and alternative fuels, this webinar series is directed at the very people that are responsible for preparing young men and women for careers in the science, business and technology of urban agriculture.

Most importantly, and now more than ever, we realize how interconnected we are. Working with the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), the American Nursery and Landscape Association, the Irrigation Association and others we intend to educate and affect policy when it comes to one of our country’s best, and until now, overlooked assets — landscapes, turf grass and their benefits to our world.

Kris Kiser is the vice president of public affairs for the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, based in Alexandria, Va. For comments or questions, you can contact Kris Kiser at [email protected].

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