The profitable side of green growing

Allison Hensey is the Sustainable Food and Farms Program Director for Oregon Environmental Council.

This spring, gardeners will take to their yards cleaning debris, pulling weeds and planting seeds. They’ll also be buying plants and trees — many of them very likely grown in one of Oregon’s more than 2,000 nurseries.

Nurseries are big business in Oregon, to the tune of almost $1 billion in 2008. After the recession, that figure fell by roughly 30 percent.

That’s when, in an effort to save money and adopt sustainable practices during the economic downturn, 14 nurseries enrolled in the Climate Friendly Nurseries Project led by the Oregon Association of Nurseries and Oregon Environmental Council. This three-year, first-in-the-nation project challenged the nurseries that grow our plants to analyze their energy and resource use and then implement best practices in an effort to reduce consumption and slow climate change.

As a result, the nurseries saw an average 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and also realized a number of efficiencies that add up to big business savings. Although not high emitters of greenhouse gases, nurseries are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and are in a unique position to lead the way on low-carbon practices that save energy, water and reduce pollution. They also directly support one of the solutions to climate change: planting more trees.

Evans Farm in Oregon City installed a drip irrigation system for the entire nursery to water crops more efficiently. The system also limits fuel consumption and pollution from runoff. The nursery further plans to install a solar power array to power that system, which will reduce costs and fossil fuel consumption.

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