July 15, 2011
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

The following is a summary of one of the many discussions taking place on Landscape Ontario’s LinkedIn forum. This involves the merits of an accredited company designation within the association. The idea is not new. There have been proponents of an accredited member category for years. Recently the concept has been championed by LO vice president Tim Kearney.   

What is an accredited company?

Accredited companies operate at the highest levels of professionalism, competency and public trust. They reflect professional operations, exemplary safety processes, exceptional human resource policies and excellent customer/community relationships. They abide by a high code of ethical practices. They demonstrate a contribution ethic that includes a belief in mentoring others in their journey to constantly improve their operations.  

Many of you reflect these standards already. All of you aspire to them. Would an accredited member category clarify standards, and accelerate company development by acting as a model? Would this category benefit members, because they could set themselves apart as accountable and verified professionals? Would this category allow the association to increase promotion confident that accredited members can be trusted to reflect the best the industry has to offer?     

In a real way, current membership in Landscape Ontario is already a form of accreditation. Businesses seeking membership require sponsorship after being in business for at least three years. They must submit job site pictures, carry WSIB and liability insurance (as applicable) and promise to abide by the principles of ethical practices. The accredited member designation goes further. It raises the bar of professionalism and seeks to enhance public trust through verification of higher standards. 
Here are some excerpts of some great feedback we received on the Landscape Ontario LinkedIn forum:   
Sally Harvey CLP, CLT agrees with the concept, as long as it is understood that the association will assist members to become accredited. “We must reinforce that Landscape Ontario is prepared to help our members with development and preparation of policy, processes and procedures that will help them qualify towards becoming an accredited member.”

Paul Doornbos CLT, CLP emphatically said, “YES! Steps must be taken to ensure that this in fact means something to the world outside of LO, so that governments, consumers and peers ALL recognize the difference. Otherwise, we end up with another icon/logo that means something within the trade, but doesn’t hold the same value in the world out there. I don’t need another bunch of letters or logo, I have lots. What I want/need is those efforts be recognized beyond the borders of the industry.”  

Walter Hasselman made a similar argument. “Accreditation will only be valuable if it is recognized, especially by government and public who seem to be motivated simply by lower price. If this idea is to be pursued, it must come with a promotion plan.”   

Tim Kearney CLP added to the conversation, “We all know that consumers will gravitate to quality, reliable, ethical practices. It is proven time and time again. They just can’t find us, or don’t know what to look for. An accredited level would start with recognizing those members who have achieved or are on the journey of achieving certification, and recognition. Of course recognized programs from elsewhere would be accepted. We would be foolish to not be inclusive. This would then allow for the decision makers, and the consumer to know there is a difference and this difference brings with it a meaning.”

Tim also responds to the criticism that an accredited member category would encourage elitism and division within the association. “An accredited system would have as a prerequisite the desire and want to mentor others who are on their journey. Outrageous you say? We do it every day! Why not make it official? There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of companies who are head and shoulders above mine. It is my goal to catch them. I have had many conversations with companies that I am trying to reach and catch. All offered invaluable advice. Quite frankly, I don’t mind losing a job to a good company. It is the ones that leave buckets on the table, operate without safety, treat employees like meat, and try and figure out how to cut corners that really irritate you.”

He goes on to say, “This is not an elitist group. It is an accountable group. Don’t let anyone say this level would be exclusive. It is opposite. It is very inclusive. A sector-driven, accredited level of membership available to everyone that will once and for all give our industry the credibility it deserves.”    

Wolfegang Bonham urges caution, because of the complexity and diversity of our industry. “I think one of the potential downfalls to an accredited company status is that it raises the question of accredited for what? Interlocking, lawn maintenance, garden design, irrigation, outdoor lighting, fences/decks, tree care? This leads to the larger question, what is a landscaper? The general public views the term landscaper as meaning all of the above, as evidenced by the calls we receive regularly for landscaping tasks, which we do not perform.

“Further into the problem of an accredited company is the fact that just because someone within the company passed the tests needed to qualify, does not mean that person is going to be involved in the customer’s project. To me, we already have CLT for the workforce, CLP for the owners/managers, and CLD for design. I see this as one more confusing set of letters for the public, and an extra expense, especially for smaller or emerging companies.

“I also think that it would be incredibly hard to create an accreditation system when, as an industry, we lack a minimum code that exists in other industries, such as for electrical, plumbing, framing, etc. This is made harder still, when combined with the above-mentioned fact that as landscapers what each of us does is so completely different in many cases from each other.”

Rob Redden, a quarry supplier, agreed with the concept. “I think this will be a great idea, when the large municipal and government jobs start to demand qualified accredited

Most of the comments were in favour of pursuing, or at least discussing the concept further. The challenge is designing a program that is affordable, relevant, and scalable with the size of the company. It must reflect the diversity and complexity of the industry, nurture participation, discourage elitism and be recognized by the public.

What are your views?  
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tonydigiovanni@landscapeontario.com.