Answering pesticide-related questions from your customers and addressing their concerns has become an increasingly important and necessary part of your job. While it may seem easier to shut up than speak up, try not to feel like answering questions is a burden, but rather an opportunity to demonstrate pride and passion in your profession.
WHO'S STIRRING THE POT?
No matter where you might be located in the United States, there's probably an activist group with an agenda that includes severely restricting your freedom to choose the pesticides you rely on to get the job done. Misinformation and scare tactics promoted by these groups are often the source of your customers' questions and concerns about pesticides. These groups are nationally driven, well funded, networked and adept at preying upon people's fears and emotions. Their effectiveness has enabled them to extend their reach into the communities where you live and work — reaching your clients with their allegations about harm to people, pets and the environment.
In some cases, these activists have been so successful in advancing their anti-pesticide agenda that many towns and cities in the northern United States and California already have enacted bans and restrictions for homeowner and professional use of such products. As an industry, we're facing more and more of these proposed bans each year with activists succeeding in a divide-and-conquer strategy that pits end-user groups against each other in the fight for exemptions from such bans.
As if that weren't enough, still other activist groups are determined to convince all of us that pesticides can be blamed for every possible illness known or as yet unknown. They urge a “precautionary” approach, which would prevent development and use of all substances and technologies that pose any possible risk — even if such risk is unknowable.
These doomsday tactics are successful fund-raisers and headline makers. Unfortunately, they also are helping to form your clients' opinions about pesticides. Taken collectively, activists' effective use of grassroots tactics and sensational media coverage has caused some segments of the specialty pesticide-applicator industry to seek exemptions from new restrictions and local ordinances while supporting them for other segments.
In reality, we all sink or swim together. If you are reading this issue of Grounds Maintenance magazine, you probably already realize that — and you probably belong to a professional association as well. Keeping current in your profession and actively participating in a state or national association can contribute greatly to your readiness and comfort level when answering questions from clients or the public, whether well-intentioned or hostile.
Also, the more we all speak with one voice on behalf of all pest management users, the greater chance we have of reassuring clients, balancing the public policy debate and ensuring the tools we all need remain available. We've learned the hard way that being proactive is the key and that local people must speak to local issues.
SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE
Those who are asking you about grounds maintenance products and practices have likely heard something in the news — positive or negative — about your profession, a specific product or your facility and are seeking to learn more. Whether on the golf course, in the park, at your child's soccer game or in a civic meeting, these questions offer an opportunity to become an educator and proponent for your profession.
You know pest management products are necessary, but how do you communicate proactively and effectively about how and why you use them? How do you debunk activists' myths that play to emotions, not science? A good start is to remember why you chose to become a professional in the first place. Listening thoughtfully to clients' questions and sharing your own personal experience will help develop trust, making you more effective in delivering your message. Also, stick to your areas of expertise and be honest — if you don't know something, say so. Even a chance encounter presents opportunities to build trust, share good information and provide follow-up.
Here at RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), we're reaching out to all segments of pest management to encourage the users of our industry's products to speak up. We've been working with associations in states where activists are particularly aggressive, providing support and advocacy tools for professionals. Now we're reaching out to other professional and trade associations to extend our reach into cities and towns across the country. We know that today's ban on products used in grounds maintenance and horticulture will become tomorrow's ban on public health and structural pest control products. We cannot afford to sacrifice one segment of our industry for short-term gain or to continue only on the defensive. Local bans and use restrictions can turn into state and federal legislative initiatives from which no one will be exempted. One thoughtful conversation with a concerned client is the first step towards creating positive public opinion about pesticides and their benefits.
At RISE, our ultimate goal is to proactively share information rather than allow activists to drive the agenda and keep us on the defensive. Our combined industries employ tens of thousands of people just like you. They are passionate about what they do, have families they want to protect and they respect our environment, but perhaps just need a little coaching and encouragement to get out there and tell their stories.
Communicating proactively with your clients and the public about what you do and how you do it is the first step to challenging activist misinformation. It's not always easy, but it is necessary. As you prepare for the busy spring season, I urge you to identify opportunities to share information about your work and pesticides with your clients, neighbors and local policy makers. As an advocate for the job you know and love, your pride and professionalism will be evident and you'll have the confidence to answer pesticide-related questions rather than dodge them.
Note: Grounds Maintenance magazine and RISE have developed a helpful Q&A, which was included in the September 2005 edition. You can also find it online at www.grounds-mag.com. Look under Special Reports and click on RISE Q&A.
Allen James is president of RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) (Washington, D.C.). RISE is the national trade association representing the specialty pesticide and fertilizer industries. Visit www.pestfacts.org to learn more.
FACT VS. EMOTION
We've always relied upon science to tell our story. While emotions, not science, currently sway public debate, it's important to know these facts:
All pesticides used to control weeds, insects and diseases have been thoroughly tested for effects on humans, animals and the environment to assure they do not cause undue harm. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the pri-mary federal agency regulating pesticides, requires that such products undergo some 120 health, safety and environmental tests before they can be registered for use in the U.S.
EPA's tests give special attention to a pesticide's possible effects on humans with extra requirements for protecting children's health. It is a scientific review process taking an average of nine years.
In addition to regulating new pesticides, EPA must monitor on an ongoing basis and evaluate human, animal and environmental effects from registered pesticides to ensure products already on the market meet current scientific and regulatory standards.
YOU CAN BE A SUCCESSFUL ADVOCATE BY:
Becoming aware of anti-pesticide activism where you live and work.
Treating all client concerns about pesticides seriously and thoughtfully.
Talking about your credentials, training and expertise. Don't be modest — show you are an authority.
Delivering a clear, consistent message about your responsible pesticide use. You'll succeed by sticking with a few simple and understandable messages.
Talking about the benefits and value of pesticides to public health and well-being, the environment and your operation.
Remembering to let people know that pests are the problem, not the products that control and eliminate them.
Seeking facts and information from professional and trade association Web sites and referring your customers to these sites for additional information. [RISE Web site: www.pestfacts.org.]
Letting your enthusiasm show, especially when recounting personal experience on the market meet current scientific and regulatory standards.
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