Water Positive Design
Our product design can help make actions like saving water simple and intuitive. And, helping consumers to protect and conserve water with products across our entire portfolio of soils, seeds, plant and lawn foods, mulches and controls has been a steady priority for nearly two decades. By starting with an environmental concern, we work collaboratively across business functions to design a product that solves for that concern. This includes everything from what is included in a product’s formulation to innovation around how a product is applied in the environment, and even how we promote different products to consumers. Here are a few of our recent advances:
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Challenge: All plants need some water to maintain their health. However, the soil that a plant lives in plays a critical role in how much water reaches the plant. Thick clay soils can prevent water from reaching a plant’s roots, while sandy soils can allow water to seep past a plant’s roots. Both scenarios can lead to inefficient water use, water loss, and unnecessary additional watering.
Innovation: ScottsMiracle-Gro incorporated coconut coir into its products, due to its ability to expand up to three times its size when wet. This property retains water in the soil where plant roots can easily access it, preventing water loss and reducing the need for additional watering to maintain plant health.
Result: Coconut coir is now a key ingredient in many of our soil and seed products, which are designed to save water. Once an agricultural waste by-product, our beneficial reuse of coconut coir, prevents the material from being landfilled and helps gardeners reduce their water use.
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Challenge: Excessive amounts of phosphorus can lead to harmful algae growth in freshwater systems. Phosphorus can reach waterways from numerous sources, primarily runoff from agricultural fertilizer, wastewater treatment plants, and leaking home septic systems. However, in some urbanized areas such as the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes, a portion of the excess phosphorus was attributed to runoff from lawns after lawn fertilizer was applied.
Innovation: ScottsMiracle-Gro removed phosphorus from its lawn maintenance products, after working with key environmental partners and conducting consumer research on lawn nutrient needs and maintenance practices. The Company found that most American lawns had sufficient amounts of the nutrient, especially when grass clippings are left on lawns to initiate grass growth.
Result: In the early 2000’s, our lawn maintenance products annually contained about 10,000 tons of phosphorus. Since 2013, that figure has been zero. This step ensures that lawn food is not a source of phosphorous loading.
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Challenge: All living things need nitrogen to maintain their health. However, in marine (saltwater) systems, excessive amounts of nitrogen can lead to harmful algae growth. While nitrogen reaches waterways primarily from agricultural fertilizer runoff, wastewater treatment plants and leaking home septic systems, some can come from residential lawns after fertilizer is applied.
Innovation: In order to pace out the amount of nitrogen available for grass plants to use the nitrogen available after a gardener applies our fertilizer, we have developed and continue to refine slow release technology. This allows grass plants to slowly update the nutrient as they need it over a longer period of time, preventing the nutrient from overwhelming the plant and seeping through the soil and into groundwater. Further, we have lowered the overall amount of nitrogen in our lawn maintenance products after studying typical lawn needs and typical maintenance practices.
Result: The amount and type of nitrogen contained within our lawn maintenance products is in line with academic research recommendations for specific types of residential grass and extends the time between when additional lawn maintenance fertilizer is needed to maintain plant health.
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Challenge: As noted in our work to remove phosphorus and better target nitrogen use to a grass plant’s need, water bodies can be impaired when excessive amounts of these nutrients act as a food source for harmful algae blooms. The most direct impact to waterways when using a lawn fertilizer product is when that product is misapplied to hard surfaces, such as driveways or sidewalks. This makes it easy for the nutrients to wash into the city sewer system or area waterways.
Innovation: We engineered a mechanism on our lawn spreaders that prevents product from being applied off-target onto sidewalks and driveways. We call the patented technology EdgeGuard®.
Result: EdgeGuard ® ensures the product is only applied where intended. This innovation helps protect water resources while keeping the fertilizer on the lawn where it can have the most beneficial impact.
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Challenge: For many years, the use of herbicides to kill weeds and other invasive species required purchasing a concentrated amount of the herbicide and mixing that with the right amount of water at home before using. This process could lead to spills during the mixing process. Worse, it could lead to mistakes in the ratio of herbicide to water, with more herbicide being used than was necessary to address the original problem. When excess herbicide reaches waterways from spills or over application, it could harm fish and negatively impact the aquatic food chain.
Innovation: Right-sizing the product for the average gardener’s use allowed our company to move away from concentrates to pre-mixed ready-to-use formulas reducing the amount of accidental spills and overuse. We formulate our products to exceed U.S. EPA safety ratings – meaning that even with some over application, the product still meets environmentally safe use thresholds. Given this, we no longer actively advertise concentrated liquid herbicide products even though we still make them available for more experienced users.
Result: The amount of sales and retail shelf space dedicated to concentrated liquid herbicide products for residential gardener use has declined over the past two decades. In fact, according to the U.S. EPA, overall residential pesticide use decreased by 5 million pounds between 1997 and 2007 (when the agency last compiled a use report). However, we feel our ready-to-use products better meet the actual needs of the vast majority of residential gardeners.