Scotts Miracle-Gro: Would You, Should You . . . Buy From This Man?
Taking Phosphorus Out of Fertilizers is Just a PR Ploy
The phone has been ringing off the proverbial hook this week, if only phones still had hooks. All sorts of media have been asking for opinions about the Scotts Miracle-Gro decision to take phosphorus out of its synthetic chemical lawn fertilizer.
Overall, I say, it’s a good thing that probably should have been done sooner, although taking the phosphorus levels to zero is extreme. I’m also telling everyone who asks that I think there’s an ulterior motive here — that Scotts Miracle-Gro is making a carefully calculated public relations move aimed at nothing more than gaining even more of your lawn care dollars. The company that controls the majority of the lawn and garden marketplace fundamentally believes phosphorus should NOT have been taken out of fertilizers, but it knows that public opinion believes otherwise.
Yesterday I was a bit taken aback by a question from a national reporter who asked, “You seem to have it out for Scotts. There are other chemical fertilizer companies out there, why don’t you single them out, too?”
I answered without a moment’s pause.
“Because Scotts has it out for us, for all of us. Their profit goals blatantly ignore what is best for human health and the environment. So, yes, I do feel differently about Scotts.”
The truth is my animosity isn’t directed toward the company; I like a great many of the people who work there and I’m not a big fan of putting anyone out of business. My issue is the company leader, a czar named Jim Hagedorn, who sees your lawn as his own personal battlefield to be conquered. Whereas his father, Miracle-Gro founder Horace Hagedorn, was one of the most beloved figures in the history of gardening, Jim is still emotionally embedded into the cockpit of his F-16 fighter jet and is easily the most feared and loathed person and the gardening industry.
On Tuesday he wanted everyone to know that the company was taking phosphorus out of fertilizers “on World Water Day, and also at the start of another lawn and garden season.”
I, personally, want shoppers to know who’s making their Turf Builder and Miracle-Gro. As you head out to spend your hard-earned dollars this year, I want you know to know that there are plenty of company owners out there who really are trying to do the right thing by selling environmentally friendly products — and not just greenwashing a package.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
A disclaimer is that I’ve never actually interviewed Jim Hagedorn myself. I’ve requested interviews on several occasions and once challenged him to a debate, but I’ve been rebuffed or ignored by the company every time. Each time he consents to an interview with someone else, though, the same theme recurs.
“(Business is) all warfare. Instead of being this fat guy sitting behind a desk, it’s like being the general of an army! Because it’s commercial warfare – it’s economic warfare!,” Hagedorn told author Peter Han in the book Nobodies to Somebodies — within which the future leader of the chemical fertilizer industry detailed his life as a high school dropout who came back and outcompeted his older siblings for the top job in the company.
In an April 2006 article with the magazine Wired — in which Hagedorn was making the case that all lawn grasses ought to be genetically modified — he was tossing out the war references yet again.
“Four years ago, he ordered that the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag – the one with a coiled snake and the slogan DON’T TREAD ON ME – be flown at ScottsMiracle-Gro headquarters in Marysville, Ohio,” said writer David Wolman. “Some on the company’s board of directors would like to remove the flag. Hagedorn won’t budge. ‘Until bin Laden goes down,’ he says, ‘the flag stays up.’”
Standing at his home in Marysville, Ohio, which he dubs “Fighter Field,” he told Wall Street Journal reporter Wendy Bounds that business is like “old school Roman fighting. You go in, you attack, and you can steal all their money. It’s economic violence.”
Wouldn’t you rather buy your gardening products from someone for whom profit is an outcome and not a strategy?
In that same conversation with Wendy Bounds, the owner of Scotts Miracle-Gro scoffed at any suggestion that lawns were bad for the environment.
“Lawns are American. They are wonderful places to be. They are not harmful to the environment — and the only people who would say that are people who are ignorant of the facts,” said Hagedorn.
And, yet, here we have Jim Hagedorn this week announcing that his company is taking phosphorus out of fertilizers — after nearly a century with phosphorus in the bag. Is it because he experienced some sort of environmental epiphany and realized phosphorus in fertilizers really IS bad for the environment, or is it because he’s afraid to lose your dollars? Is he, in effect, admitting that Scotts has been harming the environment all this time by including all that phosphorus? Or is he really just admitting that he’s afraid the company’s stock price will dip if he doesn’t make this move?
If he were honest, he’d say, “The environmentalists win and we lose, so we’re taking out the phosphorus.” But in preparation for war, the gladiators are trained never to admit defeat until all is lost.
I challenge lawn care customers to click on the links within this post and read or watch the interviews with the owner of the world’s largest lawn care fertilizer and pesticide company. In the old days, people used to buy from people. Folks they knew and trusted. If you’re buying Scotts Miracle-Gro products, you’re buying into an image, a false ideal — and from a guy who doesn’t care how the war is fought, as long as he wins.