“If it works, we’ll use it.” This theme echoes across the nation as we talk with PMPs about their attitudes toward eco-friendly products. Everyone wants to do their part in protecting the environment, but satisfying customer needs continues to be the No. 1 priority.

“Over the past year, we have been testing the efficacy of green products and have found them to work so well that we are planning to move from 20 percent natural/80 percent traditional product usage to a 50/50 split this spring,” says Ace Jackson of Coach Pest Solutions.

In servicing customers throughout Southwest Michigan, Jackson and his team use green products regularly for follow-up and maintenance, and as the primary treatment for bed bugs and some other pests. They have also begun testing a strictly green approach in their restaurant and multi-unit residential accounts. He shares, “Sometimes we give customers the choice of whether to go with synthetics or naturals, but in circumstances where we’re confident green products will get the job done, we just go ahead and use them.”

Brian Smith of Smith’s Environmental Services in Tyler, Texas, uses naturals as the first line of defense in many of his accounts as well. “We service a lot of boathouses and docks, where spiders and aquatic insects can become a real issue for customers. We protect the lakes by using natural products labeled for use over water. We also recommend natural products to schools and other sensitive accounts.”

Naturals by the Numbers

Jackson and Smith are not unusual in their desire to move to products that reduce their carbon footprint. In this year’s State of the Naturals survey conducted by PCT and Readex Research, PMPs reported that, on average, 18.4 percent of the products they use for pest control are “green.” Twenty-nine percent use natural products as a component of their standard treatment protocol, while 36 percent opt to use them in sensitive sites only. Another 49 percent use eco-friendly products only when clients request them.

“I have a green alternative to every standard product I use,” says Aaron Gleeson, owner of New River Pest and co-founder of the U.S. Pest Management Professionals Association (USPMPA). “The issue is that, aside from two accounts that request 100-percent green pest management, our customers here in Virginia aren’t very interested in natural solutions. They’re more of the ‘give me the strongest chemicals you’ve got and get rid of these bugs’ mindset. I still incorporate natural products into the mix, but I don’t use them as the primary means of control.”

The same holds true for Mike Norman in Oklahoma City. “We don’t have much customer demand here yet, but I’m prepared with the products anytime a customer does ask,” says the owner of Sooner Pest Solutions. “We do include natural products in some of our standard protocols, however — specifically, bed bug and mouse control.”

What’s customer demand like nationwide? Twenty-two percent of survey respondents say that customer requests for green products or services has increased over the past year, while 63 percent of pest management professionals say requests are holding steady. Only 12 percent have seen a decrease.

Where Green Products Are Used

Sixty-nine percent of survey respondents reported using green products mostly for indoor applications, while 39 percent said they use them mostly in outdoor applications (overlap represents PMPs who use green products equally indoors and outdoors). Half use them as a preventative treatment, 44 percent as the primary means of control and 36 percent for follow-up/maintenance.

And as PMPs continue to look for new opportunities to use natural products, the benefits they deliver are multiplying. The majority (71 percent) report using them for residential work, while more than half (58 percent) use them in schools, 45 percent in office facilities, 27 percent in government buildings and 22 percent in warehouses.

“Green products can be a tremendous alternative in sensitive accounts — hotels, motels, schools, etc. — when IPM efforts like vacuums and glueboards won’t suffice,” says Martha Muscarella of Ashland Pest Control in Western New York. “We also find that some customers are more comfortable having a physical application in place.”

Kimberly Hall of Hall Pest Management in Oceanside, Calif., agrees. “Our residential customers request green products more often than our commercial clients do,” she says, “and many of them like to know that some sort of barrier is being put down or left behind. Our most sensitive accounts, restaurants, generally want us to use conventional products because they feel that they hit harder.”

Nationwide, though, 41 percent of PMPs told us that they use green products in areas where food is handled or processed, and 31 percent said they use naturals in areas where food is produced.

Ernest Otter III, whose Michigan-based company, EcoPest LLC, specializes in servicing certified-organic food-processing facilities, says his product mix is 80 to 90 percent green. “The products are just one component of our organic approach to pest management,” he shares. “We support our customers in developing an integrated program that meets all of their criteria for organic methodology. And while natural products have in the past been stereotyped as less effective than traditional pesticides, some of the new formulations have very good efficacy. We are using them with great success.”

Taking Control of Pests

In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where ticks are plentiful, Jason MacKenzie of Pest Control Unlimited uses an organic product protocol.

“Half to three-quarters of our business is tick control, and we’ve found that a combination of cedar and raspberry oils not only works better but also lasts longer than chemical treatments do in treating these pests,” he says. “Most of our accounts are single-family homes; we also service some daycare centers. Treating in accordance with the label (we use a mosquito mister), we can spray the entire property, right up to the swing sets, to safely protect the children and families. We’ve also found the residual on these oils to be as much as six to eight weeks, while the residual on synthetic chemicals is only about three.”

Smith has found the opposite to be true of residual strength in the natural products he uses to knock down populations of smoky brown and American cockroaches; he explains to his customers that they may not get the same residual effect a conventional pesticide would provide. He has also tried several natural products on mosquitoes: “We’re experimenting and finding that some work very well while others don’t. Here in Northern Texas, we also have to take the weather into account. We can go from drought to downpour in a matter of minutes. We’ll have no rain for a month and then get 12 inches of rain in an hour. It can wash those treatments away.”

Hall says she has found natural products to be most effective with insects that don’t colonize. She explains, “We’ve had good luck with eco-friendly products when we’re killing pests on contact, but if a colony is involved, we still count on traditional pesticides for their residual and horizontal transfer. For example, we use natural dust on silverfish, but a combination of natural dusts and conventional sprays on roaches.”

Yet ants and cockroaches topped the list of pests most commonly controlled by green products in the PCT survey, named by 53 percent and 42 percent of PMPs, respectively, as among the top three pests they treat with natural products. Occasional invaders (36 percent), spiders (24 percent) and bed bugs (21 percent) followed.

What Should PMPs Charge?

When the green movement first began, PMPs found it necessary to charge higher prices for services involving natural products and methodology due to both product pricing and time spent (green services often required more service calls per account). As products have evolved and increased in efficacy, however, PMPs are beginning to flatten their service pricing so that customers can choose the program that best suits their needs.

You can see how quickly pricing is changing through a comparison of 2015 to 2016. Our latest study shows that only 29 percent of PMPs are charging more when they use natural products, as opposed to 36 percent just a year ago, reflecting a fairly dramatic shift in the industry’s approach to pricing green services (see PMP Pricing of Green Services Continuing to Evolve chart).

Muscarella is one of the operators who does charge more. Here’s why: “The green products we buy cost more than traditional pesticides; that’s a drawback for us. As more products become available, we hope they will become more economical, because we would like to use them much more often, both indoors and out.”

Features and Formulations

Without question, customer safety is the No. 1 concern of pest management professionals as they read the labels of green pest control products. Sixty-nine percent say they look for products labeled for use around children and pets. Forty-four percent want products approved for indoor and outdoor use, 29 percent look for organic compliance for food facilities, and 27 percent look for the FIFRA 25(b) exemption.

Liquids and dusts are the most popular formulations, with 48 percent and 41 percent of pest management professionals preferring these, respectively. Granular (31 percent) and aerosol (28 percent) formulations are popular as well.

“The safety of our customers has always been our top priority,” says Glenn Dellinger of DellPest Exterminating, which serves markets in North and South Carolina. “Sometimes that means using natural products, and sometimes it simply means using safe application methods for conventional products. We’ve found that communication with customers is a critical aspect of determining which products and protocols to use. When customers have concerns of any kind, we provide them with all of the information they need to make an informed decision, from explaining the various options to printing off label information for them.”

Hall points out that, before pest management professionals can educate customers, they need to be sure they have all the information they themselves need to have a thorough understanding of product benefits and usage. “The labeling on green products is good, but in some instances I find that the representatives selling these products position them as cure-alls rather than providing us with the factual information we need. We also need training for our technicians and ourselves to ensure that we are using these products properly.”

Trends in Green Marketing

Although most PMPs seem to agree that offering natural products is a plus for businesses (and in some markets, an expectation), only about a third (32 percent) report promoting green pest control products and services in their marketing materials.

Jackson believes this is a missed opportunity. He explains, “We promote our use of green products in our advertising, brochures and door hangers as well as through word of mouth, because we recognize that people feel more comfortable and confident in using a pest control company that is tuned in to their safety and environmental concerns. They also tend to send more referrals your way. Once people find out you’re doing green pest control, they gravitate toward you. It’s great for business and for building long-term relationships.”

Jackson has not yet developed a separate brand for his eco-friendly services, but he is strongly considering it. It’s an opportunity for further differentiation, he says, as few PMPs are taking advantage of it. (A mere 14 percent of survey respondents indicated having a separate green brand.)

Investing in the Future

Over the past year, pest management professionals have dedicated resources to not only buying green products (51 percent) but also educating themselves and their staffs about them (34 percent), and buying equipment to apply them (16 percent). Many express an interest in trying more green products and moving their customers toward a greener approach.

Almost without exception, our conversations with PMPs about natural products arrive at the same conclusion: that we all expect eco-friendly products to take on an increasingly important role in the pest management industry. MacKenzie summarizes it concisely: “As time goes by and laws become more stringent, and as we as pest control operators learn more about them, I’m confident we’ll be using more natural products. We need to remember that we’re just borrowing the earth from our kids; we owe it to them to leave it in the best possible shape we can.”