Taking Your Gardening Dollar

Scotts, that Champion of Sustainability

Greenwashing alert!  Scotts (purveyor of MiracleGro and other controversial products) Scotts has appointed a "chief sustainability officer" – Jan Valentic here.   Some of the more infuriating quotes from Advertising Age. 

While she realizes a company best known for marketing lawn chemicals
may have an image challenge on the sustainability front, she also
believes it's possible to reframe the issue.

"In many cases I think chemical-based nitrogens in the soil as a way of
feeding the plants and enabling grass to lengthen its root structure to
access water can be more drought-resistant and access more nutrients"
which can have a positive environmental impact, she said. "A
time-released fertilizer like ours that isn't water-soluble like, for
example, manure, can be very favorable for the environment. "

While Scotts is just beginning to measure its "carbon footprint," she
said it's possible the company will come out net carbon-negative, as
its products help plants grow faster and thus sequester more carbon
dioxide.

And garden writers are continually reminded of another of Scotts' greenwashing efforts – their sponsorship of the Garden Writers Association. 

Posted by on April 17, 2010 at 3:21 am, in the category Taking Your Gardening Dollar.
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28 Responses to “Scotts, that Champion of Sustainability”

  1. greg drsidd says:

    Tough one here. As a disclaimer I will first say I purchase more than $200,000 of their product for sale at retail each year. I am not a fan of their claim on bags that claim water saving. However their nitrogen sources are slow release and a much better application than amoniacal and urea straight from the bag.

    Now Miracle Gro on the other hand I call grape juice. Just your typical water soluable that has no place in the garden.

    Miracle Gro Potting Mix sucks but sells like crazy. Miracle Gro Organic Chice Potting Mix is outstanding But Their Organic Choice Liquid Fertilizer is crap as it is just a beet based nitrogen source with no P or K.

    A lot of lawn haters here but please understand what is in the Turf Builder fertilizer. The fertilizer works well, and you can say what you want about their control products as I understand the reason for not using 2-4D, Halts etc.

    The TROLL

  2. Tara Dillard says:

    Susan what have you done to me? I RANTED on my blog today.

    Yes, I bought Miracle-Gro potting soil recently. Had large heavy pots to fill, heavy plants, hired labor, & little/zero time to get the work done much less find organic potting soil. Ugh. An excuse; apologies.

    Wish Scott’s would go ahead and jump into organic products in a big way.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. When you help set the house on fire, you can’t take credit for putting out . Especially when you done NOTHING to put out the fire!

  4. John Walker says:

    Yes, dreadful greenwashed bunk from Scotts. The situation in the UK is looking increasingly unhealthy in terms of our gardening media.

    Bayer Garden, part of the multinational chemicals giant, is now ‘sponsoring’ the organic gardening pages in at least one of our gardening magazines (and one about growing food come to that).

    They manufacture one or two products that might be of interest to the desperate organic gardener (the rest are the usual unnecessary nasties) so it’s deep greenwash in Bayer Garden’s case. It smacks of a desperate bid to cling on to a thankfully fast-disappearing market.

    This guff about making plants grow faster and sequestering carbon is naive nonsense that’s playing on a wide under-understanding of how plants work and just what it would take for garden plants to have any impact on reducing atmospheric CO2 levels.

  5. susan harris says:

    Greg, that’s so interesting, and thanks. But say more – in what way do you think their potting soil sucks? And about the Turf Builder, do you recommend it be applied in spring? And if so, how many applications of it?

  6. greg draiss says:

    On fertilizing lawns…..I do mine twice. Once in spring with a “Turf Builder” like product..(whatever broken bag around the store or samle from a rep.) I will not use liquids or farm grade fetilizer (5-10-5 etc) due to leaching. Second feed is with an organic (again wahtever is lying around open or samples)usually mid August/Labor Day.

    Anyone wanting to go organic on lawns after being chemical for years I suggest weaning off chemicals and bridging into organics. My seminar on switching from chemical to organics suggests a first year hybrid (chemical spring/late fall) organic during warmer soil times. Then finally going all natural second year. I leave the how many times to feed up to the customer. Twice a year is plenty in my opinion no matter what “program” one uses.

    I cannot stand Miracle Gro Potting Mix. It is regionally formulated so someone else may have differing opinions. First off there are too many sticks and large chunks in the bag. I find it more like a glorified peat/lite mix. Difficult to wet, impossible for use on seedlings. What they tell us at their STI (Scotts Training Institute) classes is the fertilizer in the mix is only a “maintenance” level and customers should actually use Miracle Gro water soluable in addition. They claim four months feeding on the bag and then wonder why after introducing Potting Mix the line of Miracle soluables in boxes stop selling, DUH? So they introduce the hose end feeders that really consume product in an instant and end up pumping plants full of fast release nutriets that become addicted to. I use a number of mostly organic fertilizers in my garden (SURPRISE: The TROLL DOES GARDEN ORGANICALLY)!
    These include liquid catfish, fish emulsion, sea weed, antyhing from Espoma and COMPOST COMPOST COMPOST.

    Scotts/MG/RoundUp/Ortho do make many products that are of excellent quality. I like the Seeding Soil, Garden Soil and Turf Builder lines. And I like Round Up. The grass seed, not so sure. A lot of inert matter in the water coating drives up the cost of seed and drives down the coverage. Interesting concept but have not been given samples to use. Let’s put it his way I will not pay for Scotts seed. We have our own house brand, blended and mixed a few miles from one of our stores. I know the owner and work with him blending mixes for our region.
    And the quality rocks, so does Johnathan Green grass seed our other seed brand. Another ding in my fender about Scotts is their love affair with the box stores and then crawling back on their knees to the independent garden centers. Also their leader was a bucket mouth at The Arett Sales fall market in Atlantic city. It shadowed his talk at the IGC show closely from what I undesrstand. I heard of many GC operators went straight for the Bonide booth instead of Scotts after the talk.
    Bonide is a wonderful New York company that yes akes chemical pesticides but also is a leader in naturals. They also are a FAMILY OWNED Firm that listens to it’s customers.
    So this is my “Rant on Rant”. Thank you Susan for asking my thoughts!

    The TROLL

  7. Nina says:

    I was desperate enough recently to use the M-Grow seed starting mix, what a disaster! I had very poor germination & I’m an experienced seed starter. NEVER again!

  8. Reading the quote from Scotts is like listening to political spin. It sounds just plausible enough to be true, and plays on the uneducated masses. Now, I don’t mean people are stupid, I simply mean, in this instance the consumer doesn’t fully understand the process by which nutrients are supplied to plants. They can’t be expected to, they have busy lives and other problems to deal with. So, when a company (or politician) comes along and offers up a quasi-believable solution with half truths, it is readily accepted as THE truth.

    Chemical fertilizers offer nutrients in plant soluble form, and because it is readily available the plant does not need to, and therefore does not develop an extensive root system. An extensive root system is what helps the plant survive drought conditions. Further adding to the problem, is that chemical fertilizers are salts, and therefore act as desiccants, killing off beneficial microorgansims (the ones that supply plants with nutrients). Consumers would be better off topdressing their lawns with compost, as everything necessary for healthy soil and plant life is supplied with well made compost. The only caution here should be to limit the use of compost from manure, as it contains high levels of phosphate, which can leach from the soils into nearby waters.

    Of course, in a perfect world, the consumer would shrink the size of their lawn to a size necessary for their use, or to a shape that would accent their overall landscape. Not only would we reduce our carbon footprint, but provide a pleasing aesthetic. Now that would be something!

  9. gardenmentor says:

    Note to the spin doctor in regards to: “…chemical-based nitrogens in the soil as a way of feeding the plants…”

    Let’s be clear here, plants feed themselves.

  10. trey says:

    I wrote about this recently. http://thegoldengecko.com/blog/?p=868 In this case Armstrong Nurseries, the largest nursery chain in California claimed the chemical Sevin was “environmentally friendly”. As I said about the words “eco” and “Environmentally friendly”,…they are buzz words and can be used to describe just about anything we want to sell. It’s all in how you look at it. Sure, a Prius might be more environmentally friendly than another car, but it’s less environmentally friendly than biking or walking to work. It’s all relative.”

    After a couple blog posts Armstrong answered back saying, “We appreciate your feedback on Sevin and have passed your concerns along to our buyer. As I’m sure you’re aware there are contradicting claims about Sevin’s active ingredient carbaryl. You’re correct the term ‘environmentally friendly’ is up to interpretation and we try to use it with caution. We’ll be more diligent when using this phrase. Once again thanks for your comments!”

    Don’t give up on calling these companies out their claims. They are watching, and will relent if forced to by customers and gardeners.

  11. Town Mouse says:

    Oh, disgusting. Who needs all this crap. The only crap my fruit trees seem to appreciate is the horse manure I got through a friend of a friend.

    Thanks for the alert. Amazing what people will spend money on — and remember, a lot of the money you spend on those lovely Scott’s products goes to marketing. The horse, on the other, hand, is happy to prepare more for free.

  12. Many gardeners who appreciate the convenience and efficiency of the Scott products are more concerned with getting a garden job done than they are about the environment. It is consumers who supports Scott and their products. Scott is only satisfying a pre-existing need.

    Furthermore , Mr. Hokunson’s suggestion that consumers use compost to feed their lawns is wise but possibly unrealistic. A sufficient quantity of compost to spread over lawns and flowerbeds can be voluminous. Not everyone owns a vehicle large enough to transport such a product from garden center to home.

  13. Elizabeth Stump says:

    Scott’s being a sponsor of the Garden Writer’s Assoc. is egregious. What happens when some garden writer covers something that Scotts is doing that is wrong, or reports on Monsanto doing something baaaaaad. Will GWA lose their funding? Someone get kicked out of the GWA because they irked their sponsor? Worst of all – self censorship?

    As much as I am of the “nitrogen is no different if it comes in chemical form or from something ‘organic’ ” I do think that we still have to be wary of the 900 lbs. gorilla’s influence on the truth and opinion being reported.

  14. Hilda says:

    That quote was gibberish — did anyone else think it read like a transcript of a Sarah Palin speech?

  15. I like the term greenwashing. Very appropriate. If these claims are to be allowed go without comment or taken to task it could be assumed they had merit beyond the value of what plants do themselves naturally. Very surprised a large company would let messages like this out unsupported. Will be even more interesting if there will be a calculation made and used to claim carbon credits. Where does it stop? Do nursery industry landscape industry, garden centre industry claim carbon credits for plants next and how does that get calculated? Well done on highlighting these statements Susan.

  16. greg draiss says:

    “Chemical fertilizers offer nutrients in plant soluble form, and because it is readily available the plant does not need to, and therefore does not develop an extensive root system.”

    Not totally true: N can be buffered to feed when a plant needs it. So can P and K in a food like Osmocote.

    The TROLL

  17. Allan, I agree, and this is a growing problem with going organic. Finding enough well made compost, and applying it cost effectively is an issue. Newer products such as pelletized compost can help. Also using products such as alfalfa meal as a Nitrogen source is an effective way to feed soil microorganisms.

    Also agree with The Troll about buffering N, P and K for slow release, although you still are dealing with a salt. I would rather see plant nutrient tied up in soil microorganisms, and released through their interactivity, in a healthy soil system. That is tough to establish and maintain with synthetic products.

    Great points all around!

  18. greg draiss says:

    Scott: I agree. Natural forms are far better indeed.

    The TROLL

  19. Hmmm, and a study recently showed that chemical fertilizers actually make soil health WORSE than it would have been with no fertilizers. Basically it forces the user to keep using it because they’ve killed their soil by using it in the first place. http://www.grist.org/article/2010-02-23-new-research-synthetic-nitrogen-destroys-soil-carbon-undermines-/

  20. greg draiss says:

    The presence of additional “combined nitrogen in an easily assimilable form stimulates the growth of fungi and other organisms which, in the search for organic matter” quoted from study mentioed from Dog Island Farm. Once again the devil is in the details. Easy assimilable from is the key word. Any easily assimilable nutirent is bad for the soil. What the quote does not say is the answer is to simply supply more organic matter to the soil. Fresh manure leaches N into water tables a quickly as urea. How much soluability the nitrogen form takes on is key. In fact nitrogen is essential for the breakdown of OM by microbes if organic fertilizers are to work at all.
    I don’t trust university studies nor corporate studies. If you know something of the subject matter one can usually read between the lines and pick up on where the bias is in a study. This ones fails miserably

    the TROLL

  21. Lisa says:

    Oh, my– I have not liked Miracle Gro potting mix in the past, at all.

    Quite dreadful stuff, usually.

    Scotts brand potting mix, on the other hand, has been decent, for retail big box available mix & in feed and seed stores.

    Fafard mixes and Jolly Gardener (new) are quality mixes, with a good blend for containers and seed starting, as far as I can tell.

    And I’m not particularly excited about Scotts partnership with GWA, which seems like an excellent organization, in general (I’ve been a member for several years, now).

  22. My pet peeve calling fertilizer “plant food.” It is NOT food it is nutritional supplements. Plants make food on their own from sunlight, water, air, and their own chemical sugar conversion process (i.e. photosynthesis).
    Fertilzer is adding nutrients at best, which they normally extract from the soil by their roots. Similar to us taking a daily vitamin, most of us do not need that vitamn, but we have been sold it and many other nutrtional supplements as “necessary” when many/most are not. Unless your soil (diet, in humans) is very poor and deficient, plants/you don’t NEED it.

  23. Well, I wouldn’t advise putting *fresh* manure on a lawn, or any other plant for that matter either.

  24. Jan Valentic says:

    Hi Susan (and all the other folks who have commmented),

    Despite being horrified by my photograph, I really appreciate your challenge to Scotts. We just created this position and need advisors like you to help ensure that our sustainability efforts are not greenwashing – but rather stand up to the scrutiny of naturalists and people who have a passion for plants. I grew up as the daughter of an opinionated president of her local garden club, and my mother passed along her love of and astonishment at nature right out our back door. I take very seriously the honor and responsiblity to help advance sustainability at Scotts.

    I look forward to hearing your ideas and feedback. I will be starting a blog soon. Meanwhile, feel free to contact me at my email address below.

    Thanks,

    Jan
    Jan.valentic at scotts.com.

  25. Tibs says:

    Of course Scotts is about sustainability – there own sustainability. If they are losing customers, they are going to have to find new customers and if that means embracing organic, or trying to pass off their current product as organic, that is what they will do.

  26. I hate the lies.

    Why not organize a CLASS ACTION SUIT together with a pro-bono eco-minded LAW FIRM?

    Sign me up!

  27. It seems to me that using chemical fertilizers and pesticides is a bad choice. While I understand where people are coming from – in a hurry, need more compost than have access to, etc. – I agree with the commenter who suggested it’s all just excuses. Your lawn and flowerbeds need too much compost to make it feasible? Make them smaller. Sneak your food compost out at night and bury it in the flowerbed. Consider native plant varieties that promote pollinators, use less water, and should be well-adapted to your area. Forget Scott’s and the rest. It might be more work, but if you love gardening you’ll enjoy the challenge.

  28. I don’t think that Scotts “sponsors” the Garden Writers Association. As far as I know, GWA doesn’t have general sponsors. It’s supported by its members (individual garden writers and also hort-related companies.) It’s true that that Scotts does sponsor events at the GWA symposium, and they work with GWA on other activities (which, I assume, all corporate members can).

    No one needs to worry about: “What happens when some garden writer covers something that Scotts is doing that is wrong, or reports on Monsanto doing something baaaaaad. Will GWA lose their funding? Someone get kicked out of the GWA because they irked their sponsor? Worst of all – self censorship?”

    Prominent garden writers are pretty outspoken about Scotts.

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