Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Job Security for PMPs

The massive wall of brilliant green foliage at the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, features an 8,600 square feet plant installation by the designer Patrick Blanc.  The installation includes more than 170 different plant speciesTom Green of the IPM Institute in Madison, Wisconsin, just sent me this link to a CNN article on a new building trend PMPs might want to be aware of. It's called "vegitecture" or "biotecture", and it refers to the architectural practice of including plants as an integral component of buildings.

Before you laugh, this is not just for looks and a lot of people are dead serious about vegitecture. There is even at least one blog dedicated to the concept:

In a nutshell, the idea is that there are numerous aesthetic and environmental benefits of building nature into architecture. A few positives include increased beauty, energy conservation (plants help keep buildings cool), carbon sequestration (to battle global climate change), reduced stormwater runoff, noise reduction, psychological boosts for building inhabitants, air filtration (something NASA recognized years ago for indoor plants) and even the potential for food production.

Of course the idea of incorporating plants into buildings is not new. The historian Herodotus (484 BC–ca. 425 BC) included the hanging gardens of Babylon as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. American pioneers recognized the benefits of sod homes, or "soddies" when they colonized the prairies of middle America (although some chafed at the dirt and the insects). Germany pioneered the modern "green roof" in the 1960s and today it is estimated that about 10% of all flat roofs in that country are green.

So what does all of this have to do with pest control? As nearly anyone with experience in the pest control industry can tell you, nature often chooses unpredictable and undesirable paths (at least from our human perspective). While the architects' sketches always depict verdant, well maintained gardens covering roof and walls, with smiling people staring up at them, reality is likely to be somewhat different.

You don't have to be a certified entomologist to know that green walls and vegetated roofs provide abundant habitat and shelter for all manner of (often unwanted) urban wildlife, including rodents, birds, spiders and mites and many insects. Birds are nice until they fly into your building, or share their parasitic nest mites with workers in a nearby office. Sod- or wildflower-covered roofs inevitably will sprout weeds and unplanned trees. Poison ivy anyone? No problem, you say, we know how to control these things--we do it in our landscapes. Keep in mind though, that most new buildings that incorporate green roofs are on a LEED certification, or similar certification, track. Most of these building owners will insist that no pesticides be used in the maintenance of the building. The assumption seems to be that using pesticides will negate the value of the vegitecture.

I believe the pest control industry needs to be ready to challenge this particular assumption, look for new and innovative ways to control pests safely, and be more involved in the design of this new generation of buildings. The assumption that no pesticides have any place in a green building is hard to justify from a purely logical basis. In self-contained rooftop systems, for example, it's hard to see how a low-toxicity, granular herbicide with zero drift and zero pesticide runoff risk poses any environmental or safety risk. On the insect side, baits and highly selective insecticides that break down quickly in the environment can do more environmental good than harm. Many insecticides, I believe, could be considered acceptable in green buildings once the anti-environment stigma that pesticides carry is examined scientifically.

This is not to say that change in the way we do pest control will be unnecessary in these new, "greened-up" buildings. Use of broad-spectrum, residual insecticides will probably no longer be acceptable. Pesticide use will have to be justified and benefits weighed against the possible negatives. And our industry will have to become more serious about finding ways to prevent, rather than react to, pests. In other words, we'll have to really do IPM and not just talk about it.

Image by VirginmediaSome of the most challenging pests, I believe, will continue to be the vertebrate pests such as birds and rodents. Even some architects are admitting that wildlife experts should be involved in the planning process for green buildings. I say include entomologists and PMPs too! As vegitecture becomes more common, new and unique urban ecosystems will be created. And not all of the new denizens of these ecosystems will be invited guests.

We in the pest control industry need to be aware of these new trends, and be ready to adapt to them. After all, you'll be the one getting the call about the snake on the 25th floor.

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