Clean Air Lawn Care
Sustainability is, for some businesses, a call to arms. When Kelly Giard founded Clean Air Lawn Care in Fort Collins in 2006, it was inspired by a benign obsession with small engine emissions.
“We’re now into the chemical piece of it too with organic [lawn products], but when it started it was the pollution piece that was so compelling,” states Giard, who was a stock broker prior to founding Clean Air.
“At the time, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) said 10 to 12 percent of the nation’s air pollution was coming from small engines, and the majority of that was coming from lawn care small engines. I did some late-night research on that, probably around 2003…and then in 2005 I hired an intern to research the equipment to see if there was anything out there that could actually get the job done.”
That was quite the challenge.
“It was very difficult. We ended up buying a couple of riding mowers from a company out of Canada that did not work well. So, we defaulted to just small push mowers from Black & Decker. When we first started we couldn’t do anything larger than a medium-sized residential house.”
Thus, Giard jokes that his business began with poor-quality equipment and skeptical customers. With franchise operations now in about 18 states, those tenuous early days are easy to kid about.
Giard tried biodiesel mowers for several years, which ultimately proved not to be a viable solution—another promising idea down the tubes. Clean Air at last found an acceptable battery-powered mower, partnering with Black & Decker. It was still problematic because in those early models the batteries were not removable. That meant when the battery went kaput, your motor went with it.
In time, getting a removable power system in place and transitioning to lithium-ion batteries were game changers spurred in part by the partnership between Clean Air and Black & Decker.
Clean Air Lawn Care became a franchise in 2008 (while still working out all those technical kinks), with the obvious benefit of scalability. A less obvious benefit was gaining access to talented collaborators. In the fall of 2013, Girard organized a summit with about 10 franchise owners, each with an in-depth grasp of lawn care, to collaborate on formulating organic fertilizers. Two products resulted—one pelletized fertilizer and one liquid.
The pelletized products are made of things like alfalfa, corn, soybeans, molasses and kelp, explains Girard. The liquid product works differently, enriching root systems with a combination of ingredients including mycorrhiza, a fungus, and humic acid.
“A lot of people think that organic doesn’t work,” Giard says, “but if you do it right, it makes the grass a better shade of green” that maintains a more consistent appearance.
Finally, all of Clean Air’s trucks are fitted with 130-watt solar panels, which powers all lawn equipment most of the time. Impressive.
Author John Garvey | Mar 29, 2018 | NOCO Style