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Posted: October 01, 2011

State of the state: Sustainability

Garden stores get certified green by Veriflora

Carolyn McIntosh

When your business is plants and the products to grow them, people believe your business is green. But keeping perishable goods often leads to reaching for fast pest solutions or flipping the switch on energy-guzzling equipment that's not as earth-friendly as all of those plants suggest.

"People assume our industry is green in all aspects, but that's not always true," says Beth Zwinak, retail manager for Tagawa Gardens in Centennial. When the 160,000-square-foot greenhouse and garden center wanted to ensure that its business was as green as its plants, it turned to Veriflora, the premier certification program for horticulture.

"We feel this is important to the next generation as well as our customers, who are all age groups," said Zwinak, who oversees a staff that swells from 40 year-round employees to 120 seasonally. "Being Veriflora (certified) shows people a symbol of our being green, by doing things that we were already doing, but it's also a work in progress; they see things to help us in being sustainable, the next steps to being more green."

Veriflora began as an industry initiative, with environmentalists, social activists and retailers coming together with Scientific Certification Systems to develop sustainability standards for horticulture and cut flowers. The Emeryville, Calif., company provides independent verification and certification of environmental, sustainability, stewardship and food quality claims.

The green labeling program they crafted goes beyond environmental sustainability although, like the National Organic Program, it focuses on use of lower risk pesticides, correct management of fertilizers and environmental protection, said Dr. Michael Keyes, Senior Agricultural and Natural Resources Specialist with SCS. "Sustainability standards are broader than organic, because we also go into sustainable crop production, protection of the ecosystem, as well as fair labor practices, community benefits, and product quality."

Achieving certification was part of a corporate direction for the multi-state Tagwas Inc. Founded in 1967, the Brighton business has greenhouses in Denver, Albuquerque and California, and the retail store in Centennial. Ball-Tagawa Growers in California was the first to gain Veriflora certification.
As the grower side of Tagawas participated, so did the retail, as a pilot store in Veriflora's Preferred Retailer Program, which provides training in caring for certified products as well as schooling staff in talking points about Veriflora for customers, to foster brand understanding. Though they don't go through rigorous certification, they are the bridge to consumers and an important part of the Veriflora family.

"One of the purposes of the Preferred Retailer Program is to build brand recognition and brand loyalty for Veriflora in support of our clients, plus build consumer understanding of what sustainably grown cut flowers or potted plants means," said Jennifer Watters, Food & Agriculture Sustainability Services Associate with SCS. Ongoing support includes Point-of-Purchase materials and collaterals, like brochures and information sheets.
Zwinak says company commitment is the key to maintaining Veriflora certification and Preferred Retailer status, because of investment in staff time and training. But the payoff is peace of mind for you and
your clientele.

"It's always in the back of our mind when we're making decisions," she said. "This certification is not just earth or environmentally friendly; it's all inclusive. How we treat the staff, offering only quality products, the business practices we adhere to. You go through certification but you're always moving forward. There are always things you're working toward. We're doing business but being mindful of a lot of aspects; we have to be profitable but treat people fairly, while watching the environment."

--Carol O'Meara
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Carolyn McIntosh is partner in the law firm of Patton Boggs, where she specializes in energy and natural resources. She serves on the board of directors of CORE Colorado (Connected Organizations for a Responsible Economy).

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