We’re always inspired by entrepreneurs who see an opportunity that aligns with their passion and dive right in. Kelly Giard of Clean Air Lawn Care fits that description and has been recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as a finalist in their Emerging Entrepreneur of 2009 contest.
Launched in 2006, Clean Air Lawn Care has become the nation’s leading full-service sustainable lawn care company. Dedicated to using clean electric and biodiesel powered equipment for lawn mowing and landscape maintenance that is run on renewable energy. Their electric equipment is charged during the day by solar panels mounted on our trucks and overnight with wind power. For an industry that he calls the “dirty frontier” they are about as clean as you can get.
Kelly took the time to answer a few of our questions about the lawn care industry as well as offering some awesome tips for taking care of your lawn. He’s also does a great job of convincing us to re-evaluate our stance on synthetic lawns. C&H: What’s your background and how did you get into the clean lawn business? Kelly: I grew up in Walla Walla, WA and had my own one guy mowing operation with about 25 clients. I’ve always enjoyed the work – especially the immediate satisfaction of seeing your efforts in the finished product. I went off to Boston University and got a masters in Econ, but also picked up a bachelors in Environmental Analysis and Policy. After 8 years as a retail stockbroker in Fort Collins, CO, I was getting a little bored and so I started Clean Air Lawn Care out of my garage mostly for fun. I got lucky and business took off, I sold my brokerage business, and made the decision to go big with Clean Air. Clean Air is what I would call the wedding of my high school job, my environmental interests, and my experience in business.
C&H: There are numerous clean air lawn tools available to consumers, why should they go with your service? Kelly: 25% of Americans use a service because they have the discretionary income and they don’t want to do the work themselves. We want them to have a choice when they hire a service. Sustainable vs. dirty. There are some fantastic tools coming out that can match gas in terms of horsepower for the first time and we are partnered with those manufacturers in ways that will benefit us, but also benefit the do-it-yourselfer. The tools need to continue to improve to become widespread. For instance, only about 1% of the country uses an electric mower.That’s awful, and that’s something we’re committed to changing. Mowers, blowers, and trimmers cause about 5-10% of our country’s air pollution. The EPA is enforcing tougher standards on the manufacturers in 2011 that require 35% lower emissions on all new landscaping equipment. That move alone will be the same as taking 1 out of every 5 cars in the US off the road in terms of air pollution. The lawn is one of the country’s last dirty frontiers. C&H: What are you looking for when it comes to selecting the tools your service uses? Type of fuel? Cost? Kelly: We look for tools that have the same performance as their gas counterpart, but can be powered sustainably. Electric is our preferred power source and we use solar on the go via our truck Solar System and wind/trees at the wall via Carbon Fund offsets. We also use Biodiesel on our heavier equipment. B20-B100 depending on weather and availability. Electric is extremely cheap compared to gas. Biodiesel is a little bit more expensive. Our business model is set up for high gas prices. It’s one of our competitive advantages. C&H: What is your position on synthetic lawns? Obviously it will be a long time before they are truly embraced but do you think they are a viable option for homeowners? Kelly: We believe laying synthetics over the earth is not a sustainable behavior. Synthetic sustainability? It’s typically a cost or water motivated product. We don’t believe synthetics will be embraced long term. We believe synthetics will be dismissed as an honest but poorly thought out attempt at improving the environment. They may have staying power with some segment based solely on cost or water limitations (CA, AZ). Smart, sustainable, natural lawns will be the long term solution. Over half of the US was covered in grass before we humans got here – not synthetics, bark, or gravel. We should not fight that ecosystem, but embrace it and work with it. We believe in designing small lawns, planting appropriate varieties, minimizing irrigation, mowing high, fertilizing with organics, and enjoying your grass. C&H: Any plans for expansion? Kelly: We see 300-500 locations in the US at market saturation. That number could go higher depending on how far this current green consumer market expands. It would be ideal to drop the word “green” one day, because it is assumed. We currently have 17 franchisees in 26 locations. We started franchising in 2008. C&H: When you aren’t in the running for Emerging Entrepreneur 2009 what else do you enjoy doing? Kelly: Family and work is mostly what I do. I do love fly-fishing and if I weren’t involved with Clean Air, I’d try to become a professional fly fisherman (don’t even know if that profession exists, but it should). I can fly fish from my office here in Fort Collins over lunch, we have a little mountain property on the Cache La Poudre River in CO we like to go to on the weekends sometimes, and I chuck my computer and cell phone and disappear in the watersheds of the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho and Montana every year for a week. C&H: As a lawn pro do you have any lawn growing tips? Kelly: Fight weeds with a healthy lawn, not by spraying herbicides. Cut your lawn half an inch higher than you usually do (one or two notches on your mower wheels) and notice how much greener it gets, how fewer weeds there are, and how much less water it needs. Edge and trim the lawn vertically instead of scalping horizonally – allows your lawn to choke out weeds on the edges where they usually get started. Detox your lawn from chemicals – organics work with the earth, not against it and so they will require less maintenance in the long run.
If you like what he says I’m sure he’d appreciate the votes for Emerging Entrepreneur of 2009 contest at Entrepreneur Magazine.