International trends for the greenlife industry

By Gabrielle Stannus

Which international trends may provide opportunities for the greenlife industry and your business soon? We find out from Dr. Charles Hall from Texas A&M University.

Dr. Charles Hall is the Ellison Chair in International Floriculture in the Texas A&M University’s Department of Horticultural Sciences. Dr Hall shared his take on those international trends that may provide opportunities for the greenlife industry with attendees at the recent Healthy Plants, Healthy People conference in Perth. Highlights of that presentation are summaraised below.

1.Growth of cities
Dr. Charles Hall, Ellison Chair in International Floriculture in the Texas A&M University’s Department of Horticultural Sciences says that ‘Thriving Cities of the Future’ will positively impact well-being and the environment. With the United Nations predicting that more than more than two-thirds of the world population will live in cities by 2050 1 , urban green spaces will become even more important for realising improved public health outcomes. Dr Hall claims that Central Recreation Districts (CRDs) will replace Central Business Districts (CBDs) as activity hubs. CRDs are urban areas designed to enable people to escape the hustle of the city. They generally include parks, historic places, landmarks, and/or tourist destinations.

Dr Hall says green infrastructure, including urban trees, and horticulture will play a key role in creating desirable cities in which to live. This task will require billions of plants, and people who know how to propagate, grow and maintain them in an urbanized environment. Here in Australia, we are already leading the way in greening cities. Industry programs such as Greener Spaces, Better Places, aiming to make Australia's urban areas, the greenest in the world. However, there is much more work to do.

2.Development of a circular economy
Remember the days when things were made to last, items were mended, and fashions lasted longer than a season? Now society is consumed by consumption. Dr Hall claims that global consumption has tripled since 1970 and that only 9% of materials consumed globally are re-used. Further, he says that 67% of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to material management.

Dr Hall claims that with the help of green infrastructure, we can create new business models to reduce our environmental impact. A circular economy is unlike traditional 'take, make, waste' production and consumption systems. It makes the most of resources, replacing the end-of-life concept with restoration, thereby ‘closing the loop’.

Dr Hall says that well-known companies such as Coca-Cola, AT&T and IKEA are already committed to removing single-use plastics, offering plant-based food options, zero-emission deliveries and zero landfill commitments. He says that members of the greenlife industry in the USA are starting to do similar, e.g. The Espoma Company is incorporating renewable (plant-based) resin for several of its organic fertiliser bags.

3.Increase in ‘Green Collar’ jobs
Dr Hall says that urban growth creates trends in green industries, such as greater energy efficiency and resource sustainability. It will also drive job creation. From horticultural therapy to plant bloggers, new jobs range from full-on careers to seasonal opportunities. Booming hydroponic and aquaponic industries create demand for new, cleaner data-driven jobs. Baby Boomers are looking for even more services in the garden, from vacation watering to plant whispering. Yes … plant whispering!

However, members of the greenlife industry in the USA are experiencing similar difficulties facing their Australian counterparts when trying to recruit staff. There are double the jobs available than the students to fill them. Dr Hall acknowledges that the passion is there, but when it is time to pick a major, young people are not considering plants as a career. He says we must use different terms when speaking with young people to excite them about the possibilities of horticulture, e.g. ‘plantologist’. Movements such as Seed Your Future have started working to promote horticulture and inspire people to pursue careers working with plants.

4.Thinking outside the house
Dr Hall says that houseplants are having a moment in the USA, and he does not see this trend going anywhere soon. Plant Life Balance’s Trend Report: 2020 Plant Predictions shows that demand for indoor plants is also high in Australia with:

  • 18% of Australians buying a trailing plant in the last year, and
  • 38% of Australians buying a small tropical plant, like a peace lily, in the past year 2 .

Dr Halls sees this interest in houseplants as a way for people to connect with each other outside of the house. ‘Meet and Greets’ with plantfluencers allow people to network with their favourite Insta-celebrity or find other plant buddies. Pub crawls or plant swaps help local businesses attract and retain customers. These events draw in a diverse group of mostly young women with a variety of experiences - from people with large yards to those gardening on fire escapes - connecting over plants and sharing knowledge. In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, these gatherings will now likely be online rather than in person.

5.Valuing Nature’s restorative effect
Dr Hall says that in today's 24/7 connected society and public discontent, depression and anxiety are skyrocketing world-wide. By 2030, the World Health Organisation predicts that anxiety will be the #1 health issue, outranking obesity.

Dr Hall claims that analysts have reported that the global wellbeing economy - wellness tourism, real estate, the spa industry and workplace wellness - reached $3.7 trillion in 2016 and is expected to grow 17% over five years. Much of this is likely to be underpinned by the restorative effect that nature can provide.

"The biophilia hypothesis is that we have an innate need to be connected to nature," explains Dr Dominique Hes from the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne School of Design, "We evolved in nature, so our brains are more relaxed when we are connected to nature and that is all connected to wellbeing. It is like the difference between how you are after a good night's sleep compared to having an okay but not great night."

6.Growing your own protein
Dr Hall calls Plant Eaters “The New Consumer” and says that eating more plants has created a new consumer: The Flexitarian. ‘Flexitarians’ are neither vegan nor vegetarian. The Flexitarian diet can be generally defined as a semi-vegetarian diet with moderate consumption of animal products. The health food company Sanitarium claim that more than two million Australians now report their diet is ‘almost all’ or ‘all’ vegetarian, an increase of 30 per cent in the last four years 3 .

7.Rise in robotic technology
From robotic mowers and landscapers to wireless plant sensors and sprinkler systems, Dr Hall says high-tech tools such as those listed below will free gardeners and horticulturists from unpleasant tasks or simply make them better gardeners

  • Tertill: A solar powered robot that ‘whacks’ weeds for up to 3 hours
  • RoboBee: Walmart has filed 6 patents using drones to identify pests attacking crops, monitor crop damage, spray pesticides, and pollinate crops
  • Plants Map: A mobile-friendly website aimed at solving the challenges of documenting, organising, mapping, tagging and sharing about plants

Dr Hall says that robots that see will be the next big thing. Vision technology combines laser vision with AI software to enable automated arms to carry out more complex tasks, such as slicing chicken. Will planting, watering and weeding be next?



References
1.Ritchie, H & Roser, M 2019, ‘Urbanization’, Published online at OurWorldInData.org, viewed 15 December 2019, https://ourworldindata.org/urbanization#what-share-of-people-will-live-in-urban-areas-in-the-future
2.Plant Life Balance 2020, Trend Report: 2020 Plant Predictions
3.Sanitarium 2020, ‘Flexitarian eating trend grows’, viewed 24 March 2020, https://www.sanitarium.com.au/health-nutrition/vegetarian-eating/trend-to-plant-based-diets