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TC Palm: Jim Hagedorn: ‘Social contract’ requires Scotts Miracle-Gro to step forward in resolving Florida’s water crisis

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Several weeks ago, you may have read a story regarding a rather unique commitment my company, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, made to provide significant financial support for unprecedented research conducted by the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) to identify the causes of pollution in the Indian River Lagoon.

As we move forward with this innovative work, I thought it was important that my fellow Martin County residents hear directly from me about why I felt it was critical that my company and I take an active role in addressing the health of the Lagoon.

Part of the reason I chose to live in Florida is that I love the water. I grew up on Long Island Sound and have spent much of my life as a boater. But, spending only two or three months of the year on the water wasn’t enough, so I choose to live in Florida for most of the year. My home is on the St. Lucie River. It’s a peaceful setting with a view that is simply beautiful. Or at least that was the case until last summer.

Like many of us, I became dismayed when the water turned nasty and people were advised to stay out of it. The environmental and health concerns were obvious, and so were those related to the economy, as marinas saw business fall sharply as boaters stayed away in droves.

Immediately, people began assigning blame. They cited releases from Lake Okeechobee, outdated septic systems, golf courses, agriculture and fertilizer as the cause of the problem.

As the CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, I deal with complex issues every day. If ever there was a complex issue, the water quality problems plaguing Florida is one of them. And, complex issues require a good handle on the facts.

Decisions about how to deal with this issue are being based on emotion and assumptions, not on data or science. While I believe everyone involved has the purest of intentions, I can’t see how we solve the problem until we figure out what is causing it. In order to get to that point we must have a data set that points us in the right direction.

Over the summer, I saw media stories about ORCA’s work, led by renowned scientist Dr. Edie Widder, to understand what was causing the pollution in the Indian River Lagoon. After I learned more about their efforts and their reputation, I called Dr. Widder.

I told her that ScottsMiracle-Gro wanted to help fund ORCA’s research. I agreed that ORCA’s work must be independent and that it be transparent. Our goal here is simple: if we’re going to be part of the solution we need to know the extent to which, if any, we are a part of the problem.

Not only are we providing financial support to ORCA, we’ve also partnered with Tampa Bay Watch and are exploring partnerships with other Florida environmental groups. We also announced plans for a statewide consumer education initiative. We will use advertising, our company websites, social media outreach, in-store signage and other channels of communication to help remind homeowners about the proper way to care for their lawns and gardens.

This follows steps taken over the last seven years to remove phosphorous from our lawn fertilizers, redesign our spreaders to help consumers minimize the potential for fertilizer to land on hard surfaces.

I see these investments as part of the social contract that comes with being an industry leader and a good corporate citizen. Some of these are steps taken years ago, and some are new steps. I am not going to argue that our company and our products are perfect. They’re not. But, I will say that we are committed to fostering a healthy environment.

Some may argue that I’m just trying to protect my business. Of course I am. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if it means we find solutions faster, I hope other CEOs will step up and protect their businesses by joining these efforts.

Companies that operate with disregard for the environment will have a tough time in today’s marketplace. CEOs like me believe that focusing on issues like water quality doesn’t just help the environment, it also helps our organizations reinvent themselves and remain relevant in an ever-changing marketplace. Throughout the U.S. our company has successfully worked with environmental groups on creative solutions, and I believe we can do the same here in Florida.

As for ScottsMiracle-Gro, we’re doing all of this because our business is the environment. Unlike other consumer goods, homeowners don’t use fertilizer because they love fertilizer. They use it because they want to create a backyard for their kids and pets to play. They use it because they want to build gardens that represent their personality.

Lawn and gardening activity has never been about the products. It’s about the outcome and the emotional experience of nurturing. Three years ago, I wrote a vision statement for our company that I communicate regularly to our 8,000 associates. The vision: “To help people of all ages express themselves on their own piece of the Earth.”

The very act of gardening requires us to be stewards of the Earth. I believe we are. If the ORCA research or other objective scientific findings tell us that we are a significant contributor to Florida’s water problems we will step up to the plate and make further changes. In the meantime, we are committed – as an industry leader and a trusted brand – to do the right thing for our communities, our consumers and for the environment.

Jim Hagedorn is a resident of Stuart, Florida and an avid boater. He is also Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. The company employs 500 people in Florida and its regional operations are based in West Palm Beach.

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