Our viewpoint—water stewardship

Homeowners today keenly understand that the world’s supply of fresh water is under pressure and that pollution caused by nutrient runoff is an increasing concern in some of our most important waterways. That’s why they are seeking solutions to use water more responsibly in their lawns and gardens and to ensure their actions do not inadvertently create challenges for the Earth’s most important natural resource.

We know it is our responsibility to help them achieve these goals. In fact, we view water stewardship as our No. 1 environmental priority. We believe our products, processes and our support of environmental programs have set a standard in our industry and demonstrate this commitment.

The issues around water quality and conservation are inherently local in nature. We’ve seen these issues in places like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, the Chesapeake Bay, Florida, California and Long Island. While some areas have abundant water, others simultaneously struggle through drought. In many areas of the U.S., the water remains crystal clear. In others, it is polluted with harmful algal blooms that can be toxic to both human and aquatic life.

It is difficult for a company like ScottsMiracle-Gro to create product solutions to meet the needs of every specific community. That’s why we strive to be a change agent in a broader sense by creating lawns and gardens that use less water and by developing products and consumer education efforts that reduce the possibility of harmful runoff in all communities.

Helping our consumers protect and conserve water has been a steady priority for nearly two decades. We are focused on continuously evolving our formulations, application devices and education. As the leader in lawn and garden, we consider it our responsibility to

  • Educate homeowners on when, how and how much to irrigate their lawns
  • Help gardeners select the best plants and grass to grow based on local conditions and the availability of water
  • Design, and sometimes reengineer, our products to minimize the possibility of water pollution caused by lawn care or gardening runoff
  • Support the efforts of water protection groups across the U.S.
  • Advocate for increased participation and funding to solve water scarcity problems

Our R&D leads to innovation

Our industry-leading R&D tools enhance our efforts to use water more efficiently and ensure that runoff does not negatively impact local water supplies. These tools include the following:

  • A runoff facility that allows us to precisely measure nutrient runoff and leaching from lawn food under various watering conditions in search of product application and formulation changes that minimize product impact on local water sources
  • A state-of-the-art greenhouse that mimics weather conditions anywhere in the world, allowing us to determine optimal outdoor water use to ensure homeowners in all climates can enjoy beautiful and beneficial plants
  • A series of modular gardens and raised beds that allow us to examine how different amounts of fertilizer and different watering regimes help people succeed in the expanding area of outdoor urban gardening
  • A large rain-out shelter that moves into place to cover grass when it rains locally at our research station, giving us the ability to test new drought-tolerant grasses and test products that help homeowners use less water while still having a great lawn
  • A Water Efficiency Technology, or WET Center, that allows us to conduct drought research, test smart irrigation technology and design product solutions that help gardeners have beautiful plants with less water

The research we gather with these tools helps us create new products that allow homeowners to grow healthy lawns and gardens while also using less water. For example, those insights led us to incorporate coconut coir into our growing media products. A waste product from coconut husks, coir expands up to three times its size when wet. In doing so, it retains water in the soil where plant roots can easily access it, slowing water loss to evaporation and allowing consumers to go longer between waterings. Since introducing this material we believe we have become the largest user of coconut coir in the world.

We also work on conserving water through grass itself. Our seed-breeding methods have enabled us to produce turf grass featuring increased drought tolerance, allowing the grass to survive for longer periods without rainfall or supplemental irrigation. We are also testing how biotechnology can reduce the amount of nutrients and water that different turf grass varieties require.

The amount of time, energy and resources we put into addressing water-related challenges has also led to the creation of products like EveryDrop™, which debuted in 2015. This formula of wetting agents is designed to help move water into the soil consistently and evenly. Applying it to lawns helps to reduce wasteful runoff and pooling. Whether relying on rain, sprinklers or hoses, the product is designed to help gardeners make the most of available water. For that reason, in 2018, EveryDrop technology was incorporated into Scotts® Summer Lawn Food.

Our commitment to protecting water extends to the way homeowners apply our products. Reducing off-target application––meaning product applied other than where intended––is a major focus of our R&D efforts and commitment to water stewardship. When fertilizers and pesticides are misapplied and left on hard surfaces, such as driveways or sidewalks, they can more easily wash into local sewer systems and waterways.

That’s why we engineered a mechanism on our lawn spreaders that reduces off-target application. Our patented EdgeGuard® technology helps ensure fertilizer is only applied on the lawn, where it can have the most beneficial impact, and not hard surfaces.

We also understand that keeping things as simple as possible makes it easier for gardeners to use our products as intended. That is why the vast majority of our liquid pesticide products are sold in ready-to-use or ready-to-spray formulations. This eliminates the need for homeowners to mix their own pesticides using a concentrated formula, thus reducing the likelihood of either an accidental spill or over-application, either of which could be detrimental to local water sources.

The impact of our innovations

Of all our recent innovations, the decision to remove phosphorus from our lawn maintenance products highlights the significant impact that our water-related actions have had in addressing issues that matter to homeowners.

Excessive phosphorus in freshwater systems can lead to harmful algae growth. Phosphorus can reach waterways from numerous sources, primarily runoff from agricultural fertilizer, wastewater treatment plants and leaking home septic systems. This vexing issue threatens drinking water and wildlife, and it is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $2.2 billion annually.

By most estimates, do-it-yourself application of lawn fertilizer accounts for only about 2 percent of the total fertilizer used annually in the United States. While we do not believe homeowner use of lawn fertilizer is a major contributor to nutrient pollution, we also believe it is our responsibility to take steps to ensure the likelihood of this occurrence is as low as possible. After working with key environmental partners and conducting consumer research on lawn nutrient needs and maintenance practices, we removed phosphorus from our lawn maintenance products. This has reduced the amount of phosphorus introduced into the environment by about 10,000 tons annually.

We also know that excessive nitrogen runoff can also potentially lead to harmful algae growth. While nitrogen reaches waterways primarily from agricultural fertilizer runoff, wastewater treatment plants and leaking home septic systems, it is possible that lawn fertilizer can contribute to this issue, especially in areas with sandy soil.

To properly dispense the amount of nitrogen that grass plants need while minimizing the likelihood of leaching or runoff, we continue to refine our slow-release products and technology. This allows grass plants to gradually use nutrients over a longer period of time, preventing it from overwhelming the plant and seeping through the soil and into groundwater. In addition to releasing nitrogen in a more controlled fashion, we have also worked to decrease the overall amount of nitrogen in our lawn maintenance products.

We have calibrated our nitrogen content to match the application rate recommendations from universities such as Cornell University, Michigan State University and the University of Florida, all of which are institutions that have continually focused research efforts on this issue.

Our role as educator and promoter

As the lawn and garden industry leader, it is our responsibility to prioritize education as much as innovation. Now and in the future, we’ve committed to taking action to positively impact water resources.

Over the last several years we have funded independent research to map and monitor the sources of nutrients flowing into Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. Our Foundation has also supported a first-of-its-kind research project from The Alliance for Water Efficiency to better understand the water saving opportunities in outdoor landscape settings. Our support of independent research aims to focus public and private investments on the highest priority actions that might improve and protect water and wildlife.

When it comes to water quality specifically, our lawns and garden practices can play a role. To help critical watersheds in areas such as the Great Lakes, Florida and Long Island we have worked with nonprofits and homeowners, offering customized lawn and garden stewardship information. Through radio and online advertising, seasonal stewardship tips and in-store educational messaging, we ensure consumers can protect the waterways connected to their backyards.

Through the Scotts Training Institute, we conduct training sessions with independent hardware retailers to educate them about best practices for explaining to their customers how to use our products.

We also train all of our associates who interact with both retailers and customers on the most important points concerning water quality and water use.

Additionally, we offer many digital assets designed to inform homeowners about key links between good water stewardship and proper gardening techniques. These include information on

  • The most efficient ways to conserve water in your lawn
  • Sprinkler system best practices
  • The best times to water your lawn
  • FAQs detailing which grass is the best for your specific area

We also must leverage our role as a leader to work with other organizations that are committed to water stewardship. That is why The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation has created partnerships with environmental groups across the United States that are dedicated to protecting fresh water in key regions and uniting citizens, scientists and communities in finding lasting solutions to nutrient pollution.

The Foundation’s signature effort is its highly visible sponsorship of The George Barley Water Prize, the world’s largest water prize of its kind. The $10 million prize—funded and organized by The Everglades Foundation—is designed to inspire groundbreaking innovation to remove excess phosphorus from freshwater sources. This competition holds the promise of delivering new, highly cost-effective technologies to clean polluted fresh water and help reverse an environmental catastrophe plaguing our water systems.

We also advocate for and support a number of policies and incentives to encourage gardeners to embrace water stewardship. These include the following:

  • State preemption for lawn fertilizer that provides retailers, consumers and city and county officials the clarity they need around what lawn and garden products are allowable
  • Sales tax holidays to allow for the tax-free purchase of designated water-efficient and water-saving products
  • Rebate programs to increase homeowner adoption of new water-management technology
  • Improvements in irrigation technology and management, rather than changes only in landscape composition
  • Collaborations, such as with the U.S. EPA WaterSense program, which help homeowners make informed purchasing choices and encourage product manufacturers to design new products that meet specific water efficiency standards

Our continuing commitment

All of our innovation, education and support is designed to ensure that the generations who come after us can enjoy the essential benefits we all need from clean, fresh water.

Many of the efforts and initiatives we have started have created significant momentum toward solving our water issues. It is our role to maintain this momentum by continuing to commit time, money and resources to making sure water stewardship remains a primary focus, for us and the world.