As a licensed landscape contractor, Nancy Santoriello belongs to the National Association of Landscape Professionals. She has 20 years of experience in landscape operations and horticultural commercial production, as well as a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California, Davis.
Nancy lives in California, where she enjoys indulging her green thumb.
“I have a vegetable garden at home, and one in a nearby community garden. I grow everything from arugula to zucchini,” she says. “I love plants and the outdoors, so I certainly picked the right career.”
We recently spoke with Nancy about the issues faced by facilities professionals who manage outdoor spaces. Read her insights on planning for drought, what to expect from new legislation, and more.
Integrated Facilities Services News (IFSN): Operational planning is certainly a key topic. For example, California recently passed legislation banning the sale of gas-powered landscaping equipment. What are your thoughts on that, and do you expect similar changes to take place outside California?
Nancy: In my opinion, this trend will eventually expand beyond California and into many other states. From an operational perspective, the legislation is likely to increase customer costs while impacting efficiency, at least until more manufacturers enter the electric market.
The main challenge is that even though battery technology has improved significantly in the last few years, commercial electric equipment continues to lag in power and efficiency compared to its gas-powered counterpart.
Groundskeeping teams typically use their equipment for five to seven hours per day. If a single battery is not able to supply the power needed to meet that goal, then two or three batteries might be required each day, for each landscaper on site. This drains efficiency, adding more time to complete jobs, which increases labor costs.
More manufacturers will eventually enter the electric market, which should drive down prices. But for now, batteries for commercial landscape equipment continue to be very expensive. In the short term, this will mean higher costs, despite the fuel and maintenance savings of not having a gas-powered engine.
IFSN: What can facilities managers do to address these concerns?
Nancy: We need to tackle this challenge in two different ways. First, as industry leaders we need to continue putting pressure on equipment manufacturers to develop more efficient electric equipment, because this trend towards greener solutions is likely to expand across the United States.
Next, we need to educate our customers and stakeholders on the effect these changes will have on their bottom line. Between new equipment regulations, new pesticide restrictions, water restrictions, rising labor costs, and other challenges, our industry looks vastly different today than it did a decade ago.
Finally, when installing new landscapes, or modifying or re-designing existing landscapes, we must take these challenges into consideration. ‘Low maintenance’ does not mean what it did yesterday, so we need to redefine that term.
IFSN: Drought is a big concern in our industry. What advice do you have for facilities managers who are implementing conservation and preparedness plans?
Nancy: As a starting point, consider replacing grass with trees. This can help reduce water usage, while achieving cost savings from reduced maintenance. In general, if replacing plants is within your budget, consider using drought-tolerant, well-adapted plants. California natives are a great option.
When choosing drought-resistant natives, you might consider:
- Arbutus unedo – Strawberry tree
- Cercis occidentalis – Western Redbud
- Muhlenbergia rigens – Deergrass
- Salvia leucophylla – Purple Sage
- Baccharis pilularis – Dwarf coyote brush
Also, closely monitor your irrigation system. This is extremely important for a couple of reasons. First, you want to make sure that it’s fully operational. Second, you can program it according to the needs of the plant material and the seasonal conditions, both of which change over time. In addition, if your budget allows, consider upgrading your irrigation. Newer systems use more sophisticated clocks and emitters for greater efficiency.
IFSN: Labor shortages are also an ongoing concern for many facilities managers. What advice can you offer leaders who are looking for a fresh approach to team resourcing?
Nancy: It’s not always enough to post a job ad and hope for quality applicants. If you want to build a reliable workforce, one that’s highly dedicated, you need to take a broad approach to recruiting. People with disabilities, for example, are sometimes overlooked. But with just a bit of support, they can be very reliable, productive workers. I’ve worked with many people with disabilities, and I’ve long been impressed with the great work ethic and positive attitude that so many bring to the job. That’s why I recommend proactively recruiting people from diverse backgrounds, such as people with disabilities and veterans. You’ll not only build a great workforce this way, you’ll also make a positive impact in your community.
IFSN: Outdoor spaces are key to community life. They proved particularly vital throughout the pandemic. As we move forward, how can facilities managers continue to engage the public?
Nancy: Whether you manage a commercial facility, a government site, or any other large operation, your grounds reflect your organization’s values. With that in mind, don’t overlook the opportunity to connect the roots of your mission with the roots of your plants and trees.
That means going a step beyond your competitors. For example, consider adding signage that educates visitors on the flora and fauna they are likely to come across. Then, post some examples on your organization’s social media. Invite people to share photos, to vote on new additions to your grounds, etc. Whether online or in person, explain why your grounds are designed a certain way. Tell the story of your landscaped environment, and invite people to become a part of that story.