Corrections or additions?
This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the June
6, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Business & Nature Forge a Profitable Merger
Coming soon to a corporate campus near you: screech
owl boxes, wetland shelves teeming with fish and reptiles, tall native
grasses, maybe a fox or two, and possibly even some hunting and
burns. Our largest corporate citizens are going wild. Cheered on by
environmentalists, the businesses are trading in their signature
lawns, complete with requisite picture-perfect ponds, for landscapes
that seek to re-create New Jersey as it looked before farmers drained
the land to plant potatoes and corn.
It doesn’t take much hunting to turn up the fact that the largest
landowners in Central Jersey are corporations. It is not unusual for
a corporate site to cover 300 to 500 acres. Where farmers planted
crops just one or two decades ago, corporations now sow desks and
parking spots. And the change, strangely enough, could be net positive
for the environment.
This is so because corporations, unlike farmers, do not necessarily
need to drain the land and clear away forests, marshes, and other
natural habitats to make room for crops. Many do the clearing anyway
to create those dazzling green lawns, but a movement is afoot to knit
some wild features into the seamless, short-cropped green blankets.
"One hundred and fifty acres of mowed grass is not a good
says Mike Hodge, a wildlife biologist with non-profit Wildlife Habitat
Council, an organization, started by corporations, whose mission is
to bring some wilderness to the corporate campus. "Lawn is a
explains Hodge. "It is just one species, and it never comes to
seed. It never produces a food source."
Vast corporate lawns provide no cover either, making them too
for most small animals. In addition, Hodge says, the lawns, containing
no plants or tall grasses to hold water, create considerably more
run off than do more varied landscapes. Sediment from the lawns is
carried into nearby streams along with the fertilizer and pesticides
used to keep them green. The result can be an algae bloom and a
in oxygen, both conditions that make it hard for fish and amphibians
to live in the water.
The Washington Crossing Audubon Society is sponsoring a talk by Hodge
on Tuesday, June 12, at Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Hopewell campus.
large and small are invited to hear him speak about how to replace
the standard-issue corporate lawn with wildlife habitats, and why
doing so is a good idea. Barbara Ross, an Audubon board member, is
organizing the seminar. She says: "We look at all of these vast
greenswards, and think of all the motor exhaust, unnecessary labor,
and watering to keep them green. And of all the pesticides and
She says she doesn’t think the corporations are "deliberately
violating the environment," and that they will respond positively
if educated about the importance of maintaining diverse ecosystems
around their offices. "Partnership with the Wildlife Habitat
is perfect for us," Ross says. "We lack credibility with the
corporations, but they have prestige as well as expertise."
The Wildlife Habitat Council has been sewing weeds in corporate lawns
since 1988, when it was founded by seven corporations, including
General Electric, Vulcan Materials, and Exxon. The organization has
a staff of 20, including eight wildlife biologists, and is
in Silver Spring, Maryland. It receives grants from government
foundations, corporations, and individuals, and charges corporations
a fee for assessing their lands and drawing up a wildlife plan. To
date, the Wildlife Habitat Council has worked with, and certified,
more than 300 corporate sites belonging to 110 companies.
To earn the certification, corporations must meet rigid criteria.
"There has to be improvement to the habitat, and it can’t be just
one thing," says Hodge. "They have to see the habitat as a
whole." Native plants must be used, and volunteers must be
from within the corporation. The community must be involved as well.
Only after a year of work can a corporate site be considered for
and if it doesn’t continue with its plans, certification will be
as it was recently for a Central Jersey pharmaceutical, that, says
Hodge, "just didn’t do anything."
The Wildlife Habitat Council has worked on wildlife habitat projects
at no fewer than 23 corporate sites in New Jersey, including 3M in
Belle Mead, Williams Gas Pipeline in Lawrence, and Bristol-Myers
in both Hopewell and Lawrenceville.
One of the Wildlife Habitat Council’s shining stars in New Jersey
is Merck, and that corporation demonstrates both ends of what is
on a corporate campus. "Merck has a relatively new corporate
in Whitehouse Station," Hodge says. "It is a perfect example
of what a corporation can do. There is almost no mowed lawn. For a
world headquarters, that is unusual." At that location, Merck
has above ground parking "for maybe 30 cars," Hodge says.
The rest spend their days in underground garages while wildlife
During construction, Hodge says, Merck dug up a number of big trees,
took them out, put them in a specially-created on-site nursery, and
then replanted them. Other trees, in the center of the new octagonal
building, were left in place during construction. "I’m surprised
they were able to accomplish that," Hodge says of the salvation
of so many mature trees. "I’m sure there was a large cost, and
lots of complaining from the contractors." The result, he says,
is a magnificent natural environment, both for wildlife and for
and lower lifetime maintenance costs as well.
Not every corporation can accomplish what Merck did at Whitehouse
Station, Hodge is quick to point out, but he says even the smallest
projects have real benefits. At Merck’s facility in Rahway, for
he says the corporation is adding a butterfly garden. In that
location, not much more is possible, but Hodge says even a small
helps out song birds and butterflies, and it gives employees ideas
for making their own lawns more hospitable to wildlife.
Even as the Wildlife Habitat Council, and local organizations,
the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association, work on de-lawning
corporations, it is important to point out that a number of local
business sites have long cultivated a more natural habitat. Ross,
the Audubon Society board member, calls the Forrestal Campus’ woods
and streams "exemplary," and says the same of Bristol-Myers
Squibb’s wildflower meadow on Scudders Mill Road and ETS’s extensive
woodlands. "It’s not only pretty," she says of ETS’s property,
"but it does a good job of maintaining the integrity of the
George Hawkins, director of Stony Brook-Millstone
Association, the Pennington-based non-profit nature reserve, organic
farm, and environmental education group with a particular interest
in Stony Brook and the Millstone River, praises Sarnoff’s woods and
FMC’s stewardship of its land. The Millstone River runs through both
corporation’s campuses. Hawkins leads canoe trips down the river,
and says "Turn the corner at FMC, and you would think you’re in
the backwoods of West Virginia. It’s an absolute gem." Rivers
and streams are vital to the health of the entire area, and Hawkins
says the Millstone, which runs through the high-density Route 1
is especially important. "Sarnoff in the past has worked at
the Millstone viable," Hawkins says. "They are very strong
in preservation, but now they have all sorts of development
Hawkins says his organization has had many talks with Sarnoff centered
on its plans to add a high-tech incubator and other structures to
its lands that run along the Millstone River, not far from Route 1.
"One of their plans had hotels and conference centers going
in the woods than we liked," Hawkins says. As of now, he says,
the issue is "under discussion."
Preserving vegetation buffers along rivers and streams cleanses
allowing fish and amphibians to thrive. Preserving water sources also
is important to human inhabitants of Central Jersey. "The ability
to have clean, plentiful water relies on a sustainable ecology,"
Hawkins says. Focusing on expansion at the expense of rivers and
is foolish and short-sighted. "We’ve already had several
droughts," Hawkins says. "Anybody who looks at the landscape
in New Jersey sees how many more people are using that water."
Battles over who gets to use water are already common in the West
and could occur here if we are not careful to encourage everyone,
and particularly the corporate citizens who control so much of the
land, to be protective of water sources. Says Hawkins: "We don’t
want to get in a situation in three years where we need to impose
draconian measures to preserve water."
The Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association is in the early stages
of creating a River Friendly Business program that is similar to the
work the Wildlife Habitat Council does. The association is presenting
at the June 12 seminar, and Hawkins says that occasion will be
as a kickoff for the program. To date, his group has worked on one
corporate site, the Hopewell campus that Bristol-Myers Squibb is
on the 433-acre former Mobil campus.
Mary Beth Koza, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s associate director of
health and safety, has worked with both Stony Brook-Millstone and
the Wildlife Habitat Council on making that campus an unusually
environment. The site features a two-mile nature walk, a mixed oak
forest, a wetland dominated by canary reed grass, a stream, 193 acres
of farmland on which corn is grown, two ponds, and, yes, a lawn.
Koza, a 1979 graduate of Kean University, where she majored in
holds a master’s degree in pharmaceutical science from Fairleigh
University. She joined Bristol Myers Products in 1979, and says her
career in environmental protection began the next year. "The
resource recovery rules came onboard in 1980, and I was the youngest
person with a degree in chemistry, so my supervisor said `Learn
Remaining in the environmental protection field, Koza became so
about the subject that neighbors began calling her a tree hugger.
A city kid from Elizabeth, whose mother grew up in New York City and
whose father was second in charge of Penn Station, Koza credits Earth
Day, as well as chance, with her career development.
"I was 12-years-old on the first Earth Day," she says. "I
was impressionable." Now, she says, the "fun part" of
her job is enhancing wildlife habitats, while at home, in Colonia,
she says she is known as the "crazy environmental lady" who
keeps her lawn green organically and collects the neighbors’ batteries
This carry over of environmental sensitivity from work to the
is one of the main goals of the Wildlife Habitat Council, which
insists that corporations with which it works involve employees in
creating and maintaining their lands. It will not certify a site
employees are the major movers behind projects. Hodge, the Wildlife
Habitat Council biologist, says getting and keeping volunteers in
the I’m-stressed-to-the-max era is the biggest challenge, bar none,
that corporations face in creating wildlife habitats.
So why insist? The answer boils down to a form of pollination.
employees become passionate, Hodge says, and their enthusiasm carries
over to their neighborhoods, local Scout troops, and recreational
activities. "You get people who relish the outdoors," he says.
"Bird watchers, gardeners, hikers. You can have ownership. If
you just contract it out, you’re missing a lot of the value."
Most people, he says, don’t have 500 acres at home, and many relish
the opportunity to do something that makes a difference on a grand
That certainly is the case with Koza, and with the volunteers she
has enlisted at BMS’s Hopewell site. She started a Get Wild at Work
Team last year, and it now has 20 members. To date, they have
put up, and maintained nesting boxes for blue birds, wood ducks, and
screech owls. Next on the agenda is the creation of an Adopt a Stream
program, through which employees will repair the site’s riparian
by pulling out exotic plants and planting native species.
"The volunteers have better ideas than we could have come up
she says. Many walk the grounds at lunch time and send out e-mails
if they see a situation that needs attention. "We have one
Phil Wall," Koza says. "He’s a woodworker. He made all the
bird boxes. He gave us the initiative. I just supply the wood."
Wall, who works in BMS’s regulatory compliance department, is typical
of the kind of employee dedication and ownership that both the
Habitat Council and Stony Brook Millstone say is so important.
Koza says, however, that BMS has not relied solely on non-profits
and on volunteers in creating a plan for its Hopewell campus. Local
professionals, including March Associates of Princeton, have worked
on a landscape master plan for the site. One of the big challenges
This corporate site, unlike most in the area, operates on well water
and surface water, and handles its own waste treatment. "We’re
our own little city," Koza says. There is no feed from a city
water system, and no further expansion is possible without more water.
The site, which is home base for some 1,600 employees, plans to meet
its water needs by expanding its ponds and creating a wetland shelf
around them. Such an environment is ideal for small animals and for
plants that tolerate intermittent flooding. And it is good for humans
too, essential, in fact, if they want to preserve their ability to
drink water and flush toilets during the work day. "When there’s
a storm, that’s where the water will go," Koza says of the wetland
Other area corporations could use similar methods to conserve water,
but to date have had little incentive to do so. "New Jersey is
behind the times in understanding wetland issues," says Koza.
"In industrialized areas, the water has always been there."
Turn the tap, and out it comes. So far. Koza has visited the
of Florida to see how that state, where rapid development has led
to shortages, recycles the precious resource.
Water is one of the big reasons for encouraging
to cultivate diverse ecosystems on their lands, but there are others.
Simply because they control so much land in areas like central New
Jersey, corporations become important in enabling animal migration.
Without pathways through the area — often from corporate campus
to corporate campus — animals become trapped. "This habitat
fragmentation has led to isolated populations that are
In addition to creating migratory routes, corporations, as they stake
out more and more land, become important as nesting sites and hunting
grounds for all manner of birds and animals. By inviting nature into
their land holdings, corporations can preserve the ecosystem, and,
in fact, can enhance it by introducing native plants that were ripped
out to make way for farms. They can also, Hodge says, improve employee
morale. "Most people like to hear the birds," he says. "It
lends a certain comfort factor."
One bird that seems to cause a good deal of discomfort, however, is
oh-so-familiar Canadian Goose, a prime example of what happens when
vast tracts of land are made inhospitable to most species. For while
the wide-open monoculture that is the corporate lawn is distasteful
— frightening even — to most birds and animals, geese purely
"Geese are a big issue everywhere in the East," Hodge says.
"Geese are big and relatively lazy, and they love lawns."
Grass is the most succulent of foods to a goose, and after a good
meal the big birds like nothing better than a short waddle down to
a nice pond. It takes a lot of energy for a goose to fly over a stand
of tall grass or a line of shrubs to get to the water, and so the
gently sloping corporate lawn with absolutely nothing waving beside
its waters, is a perfect habitat. Geese also favor the corporate life
because the lawns surrounding so many office buildings are wide open,
giving predators nowhere to hide.
Some corporations — including BMS, at its Lawrenceville campus
— hire "geese police," men with trained dogs, to keep
the geese, and their ubiquitous excrement, away. Others, says Hodge,
"fire off cannons." A better solution, in his view, is to
plant a buffer between lawns and ponds, encouraging a variety of
and birds to take up residence, and making life too inconvenient for
Beyond showing corporations how to create a goose-unfriendly
the Wildlife Habitat Council encourages a wide range of projects aimed
at making a difference. "We’re doing real things," Hodge says.
When it first consults with corporations, the organization conducts
research to determine what the land was like before it was farmed.
This "varies significantly" throughout a state like New
says Hodge. Once a natural portrait of an area emerges, his
recommends native plants that will provide the food and cover
wildlife need. Where there once was wetland, the Wildlife Habitat
Council works at encouraging it again. In the East, Hodge says, some
75 percent of all wetlands have been filled in, and few things are
more important than reinstating them. Sometimes dams are recommended,
but in other cases, he says, "It’s almost as simple as
Beyond reinstating wetlands, the Wildlife Habitat Council has
corporations in 45 states and 10 countries to complete diverse
including tree planting, the creation of wildflower and butterfly
gardens, visitors centers, and trails. It works with corporations
on endangered species management, environmental education, land
and brownfield restoration.
This is not just bunnies and chipmunk stuff. The organization
serious wildlife management, including controlled hunts, with
doing the hunting, when one species becomes overpopulated. It also
sometimes recommends fires as a way of clearing out underbrush.
And Hodge admits that not everyone is thrilled to see croquet-court
perfect lawns turned into wildlife habitats. There are fears of lyme
disease and wild animals, and, he says, it is often the surrounding
community, and not the corporation itself, that is resistant to ending
lawn rule. "Seek community involvement," he urges corporations
contemplating a return to nature. "Don’t do it behind closed
Wildlife Habitat Council, using education and a little gentle coercion
of its own, is sewing marsh grasses through the corporate community
one company at a time. Noting that New Jersey is "a little hotbed
of pharmaceutical companies," Hodge says getting into one company
in an industry helps bring others onboard. Employing an animal
Hodge says, "Competition never hurt anyone."
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
by Michael Hodge of the Wildlife Habitat Council on Monday, June 11,
at 8 p.m. at the Pennington School’s Stainton Hall. The title:
Conservation from the Countryside to your Backyard." Free. Call
The program for businesses on "Enhancing Corporate Lands for
Wildlife" is Tuesday, June 12, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the
Hopewell campus of Bristol Myers-Squibb. E-mail
or call 609-924-2683.
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