can scotts really be a partner to the environment?

ITRY TO KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT about specific companies and their products, except to recommend ones that I find useful or exemplary. Nothing good to say? I usually stay silent. But not today. Reading news of Scotts Miracle-Gro’s new partnership with the National Wildlife Federation—talk about strange, or shall we say deadly, bedfellows?—has gotten the better side of my good manners. How the partners in this greenwashing of an environmental villain plan to spin the reality that the manufacture and use of toxic chemicals can in any way be seen as a boon to wildlife, I do not know. [UPDATES: On Sunday, NWF came to its senses and canceled the deal. All links for coverage on the jump. Hooray!]

It’s not any more spinnable to my eye than the longtime association by Scotts—whose brands include Roundup, Miracle-Gro, Osmocote, and Ortho—with Monsanto has ever been.

The Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens blog has a good post on the subject of this latest Scotts partnership, which is rightly drawing much criticism for the NWF, as does Paul Tukey at SafeLawns dot org. The NPandWG post also explains the Monsanto-Scotts connection, for those unfamiliar; both stories talk about the pros and cons of the tactic of “working with the devil” as a catalyst to change as a possible explanation of when nonprofits take money from those who appear to be at odds with their missions. An important point, but I have to say: I’m not buying it in this case.

[UPDATE January 27, 2012: Scotts was fined in federal court for knowingly selling tainted bird seed. Paul Tukey has the story.]

[UPDATE: NWF came to its senses Sunday and canceled the deal, after Scotts pleaded guilty to knowingly selling the tainted seed. Hallelujah. Paul Tukey had the details. NWF posted this on their site.]

  1. Robin says:

    I’m not buying it either. I don’t believe a company that creates anything as artificial as that bright blue liquid honestly cares about wildlife. I do believe they care about false impressions making them look like the good guy. I don’t expect better from Scotts. I did expect better from NWF.

  2. Me neither. And one of the worst aspects of this in my view is the way that many of the professional landscape trade journals parrot the interests of the chemical companies in “editorial” pages. These publications go out nationally and free to landscape maintenance, design/build companies and will not present a balanced view on these issues.

    In addition, RISE (“Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment”) operates as a shell corporation promoting chemical interests while pretending to be an environmental organization. All of this done with the full support of PLANET, the national landscape trade organization.

    I thought we were the GREEN industry!

    And meanwhile: The USGS finds chemicals in Puget Sound streams: http://wa.water.usgs.gov/pubs/fs/fs.097-99/

    Best wishes to you –

  3. Tom says:

    Everything’s for sale–even, apparently, the National Wildlife Federation. Scott’s products are no better for the environment than Exxon or fracking. The sad thing is that the public today is neither surprised nor outraged by such blatant whoring. Shame on you, NWF!

  4. Brenda says:

    I feel your pain – nothing makes my blood boil faster than the mere mention of “Monsanto”…it boggles my mind that a cooperation can be permitted by law to destroy the lives of so many, especially farmers, and to endanger ecosystems around the world. I haven’t read the article yet, but I would think that the NWF would know well enough to let nature take care of herself.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Brenda. Both those articles linked are very helpful at getting an overview. We shall see if NWF goes ahead and keeps this money. Scary if so, I think.

      Hi, Alan. Thanks for the added information. Toxic overload, no?

  5. It will be very detrimental, sad and extremely misleading to the general gardening public this Spring when Scotts/Ortho/Roundup products with active ingredients openly toxic to birds, bees, amphibians and creating a host of other environmental problems are labeled with “in partnership with the NWF” .

  6. shira says:

    I blogged about this yesterday too, I just couldn’t help it. I try not to judge other gardeners practices that may be different from my own, but…

    Several years ago when I was a hort. student at NYBG I was horrified when pruning in the “home gardening center”, the area that is supposed to teach visitors, to see a large “sponsored by scotts” sign. Now NYBG tends to take an IPM approach, so they don’t claim to be organic, but really? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this NWF fiasco…

    1. Margaret says:

      You make a VERY good point, Shira, which speaks to the fact that there is no $$ (nor has there ever been) in the U.S. to support gardening (magazines, events, public gardens) in a big way UNLESS the needy (including public institutions) take money from chemical companies and other uncomfortable partners. I have been writing about gardening for almost 25 years nationally and Scotts has basically been the major advertiser possible in most/all of those years. This is why we have no giant mainstream garden magazines (other than Organic Garden, which has a whole other business model) and so many fail or stay at like 200,000 or 300,000 circulation. No ads, unless you take chemicals, period. Our approach to gardening as a culture is dominated/suppressed/informed (badly!) by the market share that these relative giants own. Scary. Thank you for bringing this up. I don’t blame NYBG exactly, but on the other hand…how do we insure that in return for offering their cache or “green” affiliation, they then get the partner company (Scotts) to start to get in line with ethical standards? I never see that last part happen…

  7. Aimee says:

    Wow. It certainly is a sad day for the NWF – and for gardeners – when they embrace and promote a company that is contributing to so much of what is not healthy, not sustainable, and not safe with regard to agriculture. Very disappointing.

    People need their eyes opened, not closed, to dangerous farming / gardening practices – and to the companies that espouse them. Together, Scott and NWF are taking advantage and misleading the public. Shame on the NWF indeed for participating in this – how can the words WILDLIFE and SCOTT (and their brands) even be used together in the same sentence? The horror. The horror.

    Thanks for posting this article – I intend to share it.

  8. Pam Kelso says:

    Last year I bought some topsoil from Scotts because it was all I could afford. When I opened the bags they had a really strong petroleum smell that kindof made my heart sink. It turned out ok, nothing died and the yard really did well last summer. This December I had to emergency pull a plant out of the yard and again top soil was all I could afford.

    I think they have added myco organisms to it. The website says not to use it in container planting but I didn’t read that until later. The myco’s sprouted a liberal amount of small mushrooms which led to more gnats that I have seen in the house. Outside, the hummingbirds and other insects would be happy for gnats but inside they are really annoying.

    Since this is a different formulation than last year I think they might be trying to win brownie points with eco groups and trying to green up their products.

  9. I work at a garden center and we are slowly selling less chemicals and more organics. Most people will go organic, they just need education. I hate to see NWF and Scott’s as partners. Too bad it always come down to the same thing….money.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Pam. Yes, one has to really read the fine print on the labels to know what’s in not just fertilizer bags, but also in soils. Some are labeled specifically for potting (use in containers) and tend to be what’s called a “soilless mix” (made with peat and shredded bark components, and sometimes fertilizer and wetting agents added in too) and some are for outdoors on the ground, labeled as topsoil (which again lay also contain other ingredients). Whatever extras they do or don’t contain, the topsoil doesn’t draiun well enough to be used in pots.

      Hi, Elaine. Education is definitely a key. Good to hear you see a shift. What’s so tricky is that most people don’t register the fact that they’re actually buying fertilizer when they buy a bag of potting soil, that it’s not “organic” and so on. Like with our food — so many additives, right?

  10. Karak says:

    Dear Pam Kelso,

    Please do not buy any more of that stuff. If you need dirt “cheap” start composting. Or go to FreeCycle – just the other day I saw a person offering Free Redwigglers & shortly after that I saw someone offering a worm composter.

    You’d be surprised what you can find on Craig’s List. Loads of stuff just waiting for the right person.

    P.S. If you are in my area I can give you dirt. I’d rather share then let you put that cr@ap in your garden

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Karak. Thanks for pitching in. Yes, hate all that bogus “soil” and junk in bags. Hate. But so confusing for shoppers!

  11. Kay says:

    How incredibly deceitful! It’s sad to see the NWF participating in this sort of “greenwashing.” And I agree with Margaret: It’s very much like the food industry. We have to read labels and demand honest labeling where it is lacking. Educate and practice conscious consumerism!

  12. Karen says:

    To add to Shira’s comment, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s research center is the Monsanto Center. As someone who has made a career in nonprofit development, it’s always difficult….I used to say I would “never” take money from a cigarette company, but Altria (Phillip Morris’s parent company) used to pour money into the arts in New York City, and when you’re trying to fund important programs for the community…..and of course, when you organization’s leadership is saying take the money, well, then it often comes down to your personal ethics vs. gainful employment. Sigh. This partnership between Scott’s and the NWF is particularly distressful.

  13. shira says:

    I do think that NWF probably has altruistic goals – thinking that they can guide Scotts “sustainability” efforts. Personally, I don’t think Scotts will ever change, until the consumers demand it – and as long as lush green lawns and no bugs is in fashion they will be the only one’s with money to sponsor these programs…

  14. Tom says:

    I have to rescind the part of my previous comment about the public’s lack of outrage over this particular situation. I see now that its a big topic on dozens of gardening blogs and the NWF’s Facebook page is inundated with protests. It’s heartening to see a true grass roots response, and reminds me that gardening unites us and makes us better people.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Lynee. When I saw that yesterday I added a little postscript to the article as well. Gee, what a coincidence (NOT) that they signed this deal just before getting slammed in court, huh?

  15. If you put yourself in Scotts’ shoes, you can’t blame them for going after this partnership. I would do the same thing if I were them.

    But we can certainly stop supporting the National Wildlife Federation. There are many excellent environmental organizations with integrity.

  16. Nadia Malarkey says:

    I do believe that as garden designers we have a role and responsibility to educate the public about sustainability and what the lawn industry has brainwashed people to accept what is harmful to the whole food web. I have collaborated with my friends and colleagues who are organic farmers and an arborist and we are presenting a three part series on Environmentally Friendly Landscaping. It starts this Monday. We felt that if people are informed about the real impact of dumping approx 90 million tons of pesticides and fertilizer on our soil, the impact of overuse of power tools and the lack of bio diversity in the landscape they will be inclined to begin to make changes.
    We divided the series up into the ‘Foundation, healthy soil, the carbon cycle and compost’. ‘The Middle layer. Rethinging the Lawn: A Designers Perspective’, and ‘The Upper Canopy: Tree Stewardship’. The event is free and we are hoping it will provide positive reasons to change ones existing paradigm.
    The other action I encourage others to do is to bring the film The World According To Monsanto. The Institute for Responsible Technology has great resources. We will be showing this movie with talk back in February.
    Good luck everyone. It is good to know you are all out there! NM

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Phil. No, big business will always look for the best partnerships…but yes, shame on NWF.

      Hi, Nadia. Hope you will stop back w/the link info on those events and your organization.

  17. Marilyn Wilkie says:

    “Corporate Charity” has become rampant. The good PR is worth every penny to them. There was a link to a petition you can sign telling the NWF how you feel about their latest partnership with Scott’s. Go to their site to see that they partner with many corporations. We may be surprised to find who is on their Board of Directors as well. Unfortunately, charities are big business.

  18. Linda says:

    I try to keep my mouth shut about specific companies and products too, with Scotts/Monsanto being notable exceptions.

    NWF seems to have underestimated the outrage and negative public sentiment toward their new corporate partner, and appears poorly-equipped to cope with it.

  19. Gardenshadow (Harv) says:

    You mentioned Organic Gardening Magazine, Margaret. I dropped the magazine when they did an article several years back about how Al Gore was our saviour from “man-made global warming”. Talk about a bogus partnership! This tops them all.


  20. Elizabeth says:

    Bad times are a’comin’, folks. Time to put in another order at Gardens Alive! and Jack’s (formerly Peter’s) good plant food. I hope these two companies have a banner year in sales. And, as far as I know, they have stayed true to being organic. Sad, isn’t it, that, of all organizations, NWF, is selling out just to make a buck? Life just isn’t fair, is it? Take heart.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Elizabeth. Yes, Gardens Alive etc. — but as for Peters, it’s a chemical-based soluble fertilizer, not organic, no? Their professional mixtures have been carried by Scotts I believe in their pro line. I think the Scotts brand is now called Everris or something, but was Peters Professional or some such for eons. Maybe I am nuts, but this is what sticks in my head. Whatever the relationship between the companies, Peter’s is still a chemical source of nitrogen and other nutrients.

  21. Elizabeth says:

    Oh dear!! Sorry to hear that about Peter’s. Guess it’s just Garden’s Alive, now. Have been useing their products for years. Still cannot understand their emphasis on beautiful lawns, do you? And, have already taken advantage of Garden’s Alive spring special; so maybe that is all that will be needed for the coming growing season. Rest up. Can’t wait to read your new book!! Your good common sense is mixed with delightfullyl playful and funny thoughts. Thank you for caring about all us who continue to stumble along in our gardening adventures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.