When you hear the word “sustainability” what do you do? Do you roll your eyes? Do you mutter to yourself, “I hate that word.” Do you say, “Ah, sustainability, that’s highly significant.” Or do you just shrug your shoulders and ask, “What in the name of God’s green earth does that word have to do with golf course maintenance?”
Sustainability was the big buzzword in the industry a few years ago. But now it seems many industry people just consider it a big buzzkill when they hear it.
Why? What has sustainability done to deserve this?
I’m not as down on the word as others. In fact, I like sustainability. This month marks our fourth-annual Golf & Sustainability supplement. It’s a vital topic that affects everyone in the golf industry.
I believe more superintendents would embrace sustainability if they’d just take the time to understand what it really means. Sustainability combines three components – environmental, economic and social – that work in unison. For instance, say I’m a superintendent who wants to reduce hand watering on putting greens to cut back on labor (economic) and water (environmental). To do so, I invest in a surfactant to hold the water in the greens. Over time, the money I save on labor and water more than pays for the surfactants I invested in. And, in the process, my golf course gains an improved public image (social) because I’m reducing my water use.
It seems some superintendents and supplier personnel believe sustainability is strictly an environmental movement. A few might even believe it’s a left-wing conspiracy that seeks to stop golf courses from using conventional pesticides and fertilizers in addition to cutting off their water supply.
I also know superintendents who don’t like sustainability – these are the ones who roll their eyes – because they feel like they’ve been practicing sustainability’s three components for years, long before sustainability became a buzzword. I get why they feel that way.
But let’s get a few things straight: Sustainability is only partly about being environmentally friendly, but not at the expense of synthetic products. Sure, sustainability is about using environmentally friendly products, but some of the new pesticides on the market, for instance, are very eco-friendly considering their safer active ingredients and low use rates.
Indeed, sustainability encourages the use of organic products, such as nutrients containing humates and other natural ingredients. But many of these products, which have been researched by leading university researchers, are proven to work and aren’t considered snake oil like they were 20 years ago.
Sustainability’s economic component is simple to explain: A golf course has to make money to stay in business and sustain. Considering that many more golf courses have closed in the past several years than have opened, it could be argued that sustainability’s economic component is its most vital.
But let’s get back to the word itself: Maybe it has to go. Maybe sustainability has run its course and a new word or phrase is needed.
I interviewed many industry people while compiling the information for this month’s supplement. Several of them believe “sustainability” has become somewhat hackneyed. When a word becomes hackneyed, it tends to lose its value.
“Sometimes people get tired of hearing a word over and over, and sustainability has become one of those words,” says David Wells, Bayer’s golf business manager.
Joel Simmons, president and founder of EarthWorks Natural Organic Products, has no problem with sustainability. “It’s a really good word,” he says. But Simmons worries that it’s overused.
“Once a word gets overused, it starts to mean nothing,” Simmons adds.
Wells and Simmons must be taken on their word (pun intended) because they’re proponents of sustainability, and their companies have embraced its message. So when they tell you the word might need changing, you have to listen to them.
But in whose court does this ball end up? Who’s going to change the word?
I’ve heard some words and phrases tossed about, such as “zero waste,” to replace sustainability. Zero waste sounds good enough, but how long will it be until it becomes cliche?
It kind of reminds me of the car I drive, a Hyundai Veloster. I’m not keen on the car’s name, but I love to drive it. Maybe this is how we need to be with the word sustainability.