By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP
Photos courtesy of Wildlife Habitat Council (wildlifehc.org)
Companies that are taking the first steps toward increasing the sustainability of their operations often look to recycling, decreasing their energy use and reusing some of their process water. These are noble initiatives that help the environment, but there is another dimension to environmental stewardship that can be easy to implement, can save you money, and may be right outside your window: biodiversity.
Most precasters operate in rural areas on large parcels of land used mostly for manufacturing and storage, but there is almost always some unused portion of the property such as grassy areas and wetlands. These areas can be transformed to create, conserve and restore wildlife habitats, and all employees can participate.
Biodiversity projects can vary in scope from large-scale restorations to individual species management and native plantings to suit your preference, and no project is too small. You may be surprised at the number of employees who love gardening, bird watching and other outdoor hobbies. These programs are great for those individuals, and the company can form employee task groups to do the research and get the programs up and running. Biodiversity programs can also include community involvement in habitat projects by collaborating with local teachers and students, scout groups, master gardeners and other community members.
A great place to start is to decide what you want to do with your property. Are you going to incorporate some native plants to enhance the visual impact of your business? Native plants – also known as indigenous plants – are plants that grow naturally in their particular region, and they exist in “communities” with other native plants. As a result, a community of native plants provides habitat for a variety of native wildlife such as songbirds and butterflies. Areas that have required landscaping and maintenance in the past may now be left to grow and proliferate naturally, reducing time and cost.
Some important facts to remember:
- Native plants do not require fertilizers.
- Native plants require fewer pesticides than lawns.
- Native plants require less water than lawns.
- Native plants provide shelter and food for wildlife.
- Native plants promote biodiversity.
- Native plants save money.
Several organizations provide lists of native plants for a given region, often with information about the conditions the plants require. The most commonly used sources are:
- County master gardeners
- Native plant societies (most counties and states have one)
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (wildflower.org)
- EPA’s GreenScapes Program (epa.gov/greenscapes)
- USDA’s plant database (plants.usda.gov)
- USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (nrcs.usda.gov)
- Wildlife Habitat Council (wildlifehc.org)
There are also state and federal agencies and programs, native plant nurseries and societies you may wish to contact, or software you can use to aid in your research. In addition, many state programs provide technical resources and financial assistance to help you get started.
A pollinator is an animal or insect that fertilizes plants by moving pollen from flower to flower. Only fertilized plants can make fruit and/or seeds, and without them, the plants cannot reproduce. Pollinators include various species of hummingbirds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths and beetles.
Nationwide trends show that pollinating species are declining sharply in number, due largely to improper pesticide use and habitat fragmentation. Pollinator gardens promote pollinator populations by providing food and cover.
Good practices for encouraging pollination are to cultivate native plants (especially those that provide nectar and larval food for pollinators), install houses for bats and native bees, and supply salt or mineral licks for butterflies.
More than 85% of North American birds nest in the cavities of living trees and standing dead trees. Cavity-nesting birds such as bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, tree swallows and some owl species have experienced significant population declines due to habitat loss from intensive forestry practices and human development.
Artificial nest boxes can enhance the habitats of cavity-nesting birds, and they can be purchased or you can build them yourself. Specifications and plans are available online and can be adapted for various species.
Nest monitoring data can be submitted to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch Program (nestwatch.org), an online database that collects information about bird nesting in the United States. Submitting monitoring data to a larger data repository like NestWatch will strengthen a company’s biodiversity programs while participating in citizen science efforts.
Enhancements to ponds and wetlands
Simple structures can be built and submerged or placed on the shore to enhance habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species. They can be as rudimentary as brush piles, rocks and logs to provide areas for breeding, nesting and perching.
Projects involving biodiversity enhancements to plant sites provide many advantages:
- Protects and/or restores wildlife habitats
- Enhances company image and community relations
- Improves employee morale
- Improves rapport with regulatory agencies
- Sometimes results in overall cost savings
Take a moment to consider the implementation of biodiversity-enhancing projects at your plant. It may turn out to be one of the most rewarding things you do for your company, your employees and your community for generations to come.
Contact Claude Goguen at NPCA for guidance on this or any other sustainable initiative at [email protected].
Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of Technical Services and Sustainability.