Why Does ‘Going Green’ Get Stuck?

Features - Green Pest Management

It’s not a service offered by all companies, nor a service commonly understood by your clients. But by overcoming operational and customer challenges, PMPs have a greater chance of succeeding in green pest management.

October 15, 2021

© Sergey Nivens | AdobeStock

Green pest management can be a challenging service to deliver. But it’s not because the minimum-risk products typically used aren’t effective. Some pest control companies are very successful using only natural, botanical and eco-friendly materials that are exempt from the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

Parker Eco Pest Control in Seattle solves 80 percent of pest issues with all-organic products, says co-owner Chris Parker. And on the East Coast, Arkadia — Eco Pest Control in Randolph, N.J., has grown into a million-dollar company using only green materials.

OPERATIONAL CHALLENGES. Instead, it’s often how these products are used and the way companies are structured to support this use that determines the success or failure of green pest management. To begin with, green products cannot simply be swapped in as substitutes for conventional pesticides. Some green products, like desiccant dusts, have a long residual when applied properly. Other products, like botanical oils, have a shorter residual than their synthetic counterparts.

“You’ve just got to know where to use them, how to apply them and it takes a bit of thinking outside the box when you’re a green company,” says Arkadia — Eco Pest Control President Mark Constantino. He claims he hasn’t found a pest issue where green products weren’t effective. “We’ve been at it for 11 years now, so I guess you can say we’ve maximized our approach so that it’s very effective,” he says.

A shorter residual means a green product won’t linger in the environment — a key ecological benefit — but this also means it needs to be applied more frequently.

As a result, companies that add on green service, compared to those built from the ground up to provide it, may find it difficult to fit the service line into their existing quarterly or bi-monthly business models.

Parker Eco Pest Control, which was founded as a green pest management company, is structured differently than most. It even compensates its technicians differently. While most technicians are paid on production and don’t get paid for retreats, Parker Eco employees are paid a flat living wage with full benefits, as well as dividends each quarter depending on the company’s profitability.

This way, they can spend time solving the root cause of the pest problem, and not feel pressured to spray a synthetic chemical to the perimeter so they quickly can move on to their next stop.

Parker Eco’s callback rate is about the same as companies using traditional pesticides, points out Wesley Parker, company co-owner.

Callbacks can be an issue with a green approach if a company is not fully committed to integrated pest management (IPM) practices.

Arkadia — Eco Pest Control accepts that follow-up service visits may happen. “Persistence is key in the pest management industry; you just can’t do a one-and-done treatment sometimes,” explains Constantino.

Some PMPs say the extra attention required upfront and higher service frequency of green pest control can make it difficult to scale for growth.

“There are so many challenges involved with just going straight green that I don’t honestly think that it is that profitable the way that we are set up,” says Stuart Flynn, general manager of Bug-N-A-Rug Exterminators, Wilmington, N.C.

The company offers a service using all-green products, but fewer than 1 percent of customers choose this approach; most go with the standard service, which features IPM and the use of low-risk products, he says.

CUSTOMER CHALLENGES. Another sticking point for green pest management is the customer, even though research increasingly shows consumers want to purchase green goods and services.

For instance, a recent study by the New York University Stern Center for Sustainable Business found products marketed as sustainable were responsible for more than half of the growth in consumer packaged goods from 2015 to 2019.

But setting realistic customer expectations for green pest control is not always easy, explain PMPs.

Only 26 percent of PMPs thought their customers understood what makes the pesticides applied at their homes green, found the 2021 PCT State of the Naturals Market survey, which was sponsored by Zoëcon/Central Life Sciences and compiled by Readex Research, an independent research firm based in Stillwater, Minn.

“Unfortunately, with green pest control, it takes a lot of educating on the front end,” says Matthew Eickman, president of Abra Kadabra Environmental Services in Mound, Minn.

He’s found it’s less time-consuming to teach customers about green pest control by providing in-depth information on his website and in his marketing materials. “It’s a lot easier for me to do that than to have a 30-minute conversation with every client that has a lot of questions,” he explains. A big part of his focus is teaching clients that green pest control is more about the IPM process than about the products used.

Flynn is upfront with customers about botanical oil products, as some have strong odors, may potentially stain and typically have short residuals.

“Instead of swearing by it and saying it’s going to work great, I’d rather set the expectations that hey, it is what it is; hopefully it helps your situation,” explains Flynn, who says some of his green clients are satisfied with just reducing the number of bugs they see.

Getting the customer to cooperate is essential in green pest control. “Having that collaboration, whether it’s a residential customer or a commercial food production facility, is a huge help in getting the problem taken care of; that makes up for the efficacy differences,” adds Blair Smith, technical manager for Clark Pest Control, a Rollins company based in Lodi, Calif.

Some customers may get upset when a green approach doesn’t solve their pest problem; they can get defensive if a conventional product application is necessary and they may not be willing to learn why that is, says Eickman.

On the flip side, customers who are not tolerant of the occasional ant may demand their pest issue be solved — even if not by the green method they signed up for — or they’ll threaten to post bad reviews online. This kind of customer reaction caused Parker Eco Pest Control to start carrying traditional pesticides, which it only will apply when a situation like this escalates, says Wesley Parker.

According to the PCT survey, 32 percent of PMPs said their technicians had a good understanding of what makes the pesticides they apply green, and 37 percent felt their technicians effectively communicate the key differences between green and traditional products to customers.

Despite the challenges of providing green pest control, some PMPs say this is the future of the industry. According to the PCT survey, 25 percent of PMPs expected green products to become a more important part of their product mix in the coming year, up from 20 percent who felt this way in 2019.

Editor’s note: Read more about green pest management in the 2021 State of the Naturals Market report, which was published in PCT in April.