Ridgeway, 39, and his wife, Deborah, 35, recently bought the territory in Snohomish and Island counties for Clean Air Lawn Care, a Colorado-based company that emphasizes low-impact environmental practices. Mowers, edgers and trimmers are electrically powered and recharged with a solar panel mounted on the roof of Ridgeway's Chevrolet pickup tow rig.
A large, zero-turn radius mower runs on B20 biodiesel. Other equipment is powered by clean-burning gas engines instead of smoky two-strokes. Pesticides and herbicides are organic and nontoxic.
Ridgeway came from the development industry, working for many years for Chaffee Homes in Mount Vernon during the real estate boom. He read about Clean Air Lawn Care in a business magazine a year ago and became interested in its philosophy and believed in its potential. Now he wants to "cater to the masses" to show them that sustainable yard maintenance is possible.
"It costs the same as regular services, but look at the benefit," he says.
For example, one gas-powered lawn mower generates in one hour as much pollution as 40 late-model cars and creates 93 times more smog-forming emissions than cars made in 2006, Clean Air Lawn Care says, citing Environmental Protection Agency data.
Ridgeway said about half of his customers "do it for the clean air." The rest stay with him thanks to competitive rates and good service.
"Hey, it's another option," he said.
The Ridgeways live in a subdivision of neat homes with well-tended yards. The only way to tell that they've gone "green" was a faintly spicy aroma lingering in the air after Nick Ridgeway treated the ditch with an herbicide called Burnout, an organic alternative to Roundup.
"With Roundup, you think about the residue," said Deborah Ridgeway, holding their baby outside their house.
Nick Ridgeway knows there's more to lawn care than the battery-operated mower he uses on the job. One goal of Clean Air Lawn Care is to alter the composition of his customers' yards to improve the soil health by mulching lawn clippings and applying compost "teas" to conserve water while keeping grass green well into the heat of summer.
That's especially important on Camano Island, whose many small water districts have had to balance the growing needs of their customers with the threat of saltwater intrusion into wells as the island's population expanded rapidly over the past 20 years.
Ridgeway said Clean Air Lawn Care is proving to be a great niche for conscientious homeowners who are concerned about synthetic yard chemicals. The commercial customers appreciate how quiet his equipment is. The growing awareness of sustainability means more commercial accounts are specifying the use of electric equipment, he said.
"We did a Bank of America proposal and they asked for electric power equipment," Ridgeway added.
Even lawn and garden equipment manufacturers are seeing the upside potential in green business, he said. Stihl and Black and Decker have been improving and expanding their lines of corded and battery-operated products, some of which now use the same type of lithium-ion batteries found in hybrid cars.
For now, Clean Air Lawn Care North Sound is strictly a mom-and-pop operation with the Ridgeways.
"I'm excited for him," Deborah Ridgeway said. "We did a job together in Edison (in Skagit County) and it was a lot of fun."
"Part of me likes (for the business) to stay small," Nick Ridgeway said. "On the flip side, the potential to make a great impact means (hiring) employees.
"I think we'll add workers," he said.
Kurt Batdorf is editor of the Snohomish County Business Journal; 425-339-3102, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out what yard care services Clean Air Lawn Care North Sound offers by calling 360-722-7806 or go to www.cleanairlawncarenorthsound.com.
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