On the (Virtual) Park Bench with Steve Richmond

Carbon Credit Cart recently chatted with Steven Richmond, Founder and Owner of Garden Cycles.

Hauling erosion control fabric the Garden Cycles way!

CCC: What is Garden Cycles?

Steven: Garden Cycles is a Seattle-based company focused on invasive plant control and forest restoration. I began gardening, landscaping, and volunteering to plant trees in the mid-1990s. I took a course in native plant stewardship in 2003 and started working forest remediation in 2004. Garden Cycles now has 10 full-timers and grows to a team of 20 during the spring and summer seasons. About 90% of our projects are with the city and county, and the remaining 10% are private land engagements, mostly slope revegetation.

CCC: Does the “cycles” in Garden Cycles refer to nature’s cycles or something else?

Steven: Both. Certainly, we do work withnature’s cycles but it also refers to our commitment to conduct business in a manner that minimizes the use of carbon emitting transportation.

CCC:  Bikes?

Steven: Yes, bicycles. But we also support walking and public transportation and carpooling.

CCC: Do you cycle everywhere?

Steven: 95% of my commuting is green. Primarily by bike but sometimes I will throw my bike onto the bus during peak traffic times or when I need to get out of the city for a job. I haven’t owned a car since 1995.

CCC: Do all employees use bike-power for their commutes?

Steven: That’s the goal. Currently, about 25% do some form of green commuting – by bus, walking, cycling, or car-pooling. We try to match work sites with employees’ home locations and access to public transportation to reduce obstacles to green commuting. Geography is a challenge, and transporting heavy equipment and large plantings are a challenge.

CCC: Like hauling a tree?

Steven: Exactly. We use trucks when the job calls for it. There are also occasions when we take jobs outside of a bike distance to keep people employed. Garden Cycles offers incentives for employees who green commute to encourage these activities as much as possible.

Kim Kuykendall, Steven Richmond, James Day of Garden Cycles

CCC: What kinds of incentives?

Steven: Well, we offer an increase to their hourly pay rate for round trip green commutes completed during any given pay period.

CCC: Are there any other green incentives that you provide to your team or to offset your carbon activities?

Steven: Yes, I purchase carbon credits – for employees and for the company. I started buying carbon offsets in 2017. I have all my carbon offset certificates hanging on the wall of my office. I’m very proud of them. And I think that employees appreciate their certificates and find them to be meaningful. The benefits are twofold – we’re doing our bit to help the environment, and we’re reinforcing the values and practices that are essential to being part of the solution.

CCC: Was there a precipitating event that caused you to rethink your lifestyle and start Garden Cycles?

Steven: Ha-ha. Well, yes. I was a student at the University of Washington in late-1980’s, studying journalism and Russian. The long-story-short is that one day while driving to campus I heard for the first time a piece about global warming that I found profoundly interesting. The fact that living creatures are more susceptible to warming trends than cooling trends made sense. The straightforward logic that the edge of a forest delineates the limits of its sustainability impressed me. A few weeks later, on the same stretch of highway, my VW burst into flames. So there I was standing on the side of the highway, watching my car –  that had faithfully taken me everywhere I wanted to go since my high school days –  become engulfed in ten foot high flames.

CCC: What happened after that traumatic event?

Steven:  Well, it was indeed a shock, but I dealt with it. The timing of the fire and recently hearing the news story resulted in internalizing my personal responsibility for the global warming problem. Practically speaking, I didn’t have a car anymore, so I started biking. I haven’t owned a car since – except for a year or so when I had a carpet cleaning business that required a truck. I sold that business to finance a winter trip to Russia. That trip confirmed my love of nature and the Northwest, enough to curtail my love of travel and flying. So, I changed by career to landscaping and, over the next five years, learned about the importance of native plant diversity, and expanding my knowledge about forest remediation and sustainable practices. That fire changed my life for the better. Definitely different, but better.

CCC: How many miles do you estimate that you’ve cycled since you became car-free?

Steven: Pretty sure it’s over 100,000 miles but I don’t track it anymore.

CCC: How many trees do you estimate that you’ve planted?

Steven: Personally, I’ve probably done about 40,000 plantings of which about 10,000 were trees. As for the company overall, I have no idea. Lots.

Erosion management: Steven Richmond (left), Steve Hughes-Jelen (right)

CCC: What does forest restoration entail?

Steven: There’s a wide range of activities. But, in short, stressed-out forests are fragmented from human activities such as logging roads, depletion of tree diversity, and encroachment of invasive plant species. So, for example, logging roads disrupt the fungal network of the forest floor that is the sponge and filter of water that nourishes all plant life, soil, and streams. We do things like adding species diversity and tapping nurselogs into wetlands and water sources to wick moisture back into the landscape. We also do our best beaver imitation, constructing water retention structures to compensate for reduced snow pack from climate change.

CCC: In closing, is there any advice you would give to home gardeners?

Steven: Yes! Three things, really. 1) Control invasive species. For example, in the Northwest, that would start with cutting ivy off trees – when ivy goes to seed and gets spread by bird into our forests it creates ivy monocultures devoid of diversity needed by wildlife. 2) Shrink your lawn! Traditional lawns are monocultures that do little to soak up and filter rain runoff that can pollute fish habitat. Native plants, particularly flowers can really be refuge for birds and bees. 3) Simply not mowing with 2-stroke gas lawn mowers can reduce our carbon footprint and improve the air we breathe. Plus, mowing harms pollinators, 70% of which are ground nesting. Diverse gardens are beautiful, healthy gardens.

CCC:  Thank you for your time and insights. How can folks get in touch with you?

Steven: Drop me a line at gardencycles@hotmail.com. We’d love to hear from you.


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