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Mowing down lawn-care traditions


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At a glance
Clean Air Lawn Care
Franchise fee:        $35,000 currently
Liquid capital: $50,000
Net-worth: $100,000
8 corporate units
14 franchise units

Most of us are aware of the impact our daily activity is taking on the planet, but Clean Air Lawn Care's founder and CEO Kelly Giard has put his money where his mower is.

Giard, who has a degree in environmental policy and analysis from Boston University, started the environmentally friendly lawn- and yard-care company out of his garage in Ft. Collins, Colorado, after seven years as a stockbroker. "I actually woke up in the middle of the night in 2003 and scratched the idea on a piece of paper like you see on TV," Giard says. After two years of sitting at a desk, he decided to explore the feasibility of the idea.

Kelly Giard hopes to help the environment, one yard at a time.

The next year he started Clean Air Lawn Care. He hired one employee, bought the necessary equipment and started making local contacts in city government and through friends. The local media grabbed a hold of the story, giving the concept a soapbox to take the concept nationwide.

The idea behind Clean Air Lawn Care comes from a fusion of several components of Giard's life. He grew up in Washington state, and like many kids, had a lawn mowing business in the summer. He continued through high school and  then college.

After he read some statistics on air pollution, he started to brainstorm ideas that could not only contribute to his bottom line, but to the greater good of the planet. As he points out, "Five to 10 percent of our nation's air pollution is from mowers, blowers, trimmers, and other inefficient engines." The result of these catalytic converter-free engines is the emission of direct fuel into the atmosphere, creating low-level ozone and contributing to smog.

The grand vision of the concept is to eliminate that percentage of air pollution. Giard says he is looking for people interested in what he calls a "triple win"—a business that makes customers happy, makes a profit, and is environmentally positive.

The concept has been tested in major markets from Boston to Austin, Texas to Salt Lake City and Westchester County in New York. He has several franchise agreements in cities like San Francisco and Colorado Springs. Progressive communities are the target area in the initial phase, but the company plans to be in every market, to the tune of 300 to 500 franchises by 2013-2015.

Franchisees range in age from 30 to about 50 thus far. "We're trying to make the model affordable to the guy without a lot of money. They're pioneer types. They're leaders, not followers," he says.Clean Air Lawn Care's equipment is either electric or bio-diesel run, a cleaner burning fuel with reduced emissions. The trucks that carry the mowers have solar panels to recharge the equipment. "We have a neutral carbon footprint," Giard says. "We buy wind energy credits to off-set coal burning in manufacturing plants, as well as our vehicles' gas and the energy used in our shop."

Local ownership is important to the concept—there's a desire to deemphasize corporate ownership and emphasize franchised units. Says Giard: "We're big fans of the franchise system. I think a lot of times we give it a bad rap, but it's done a lot of good for a lot of people and for our economy over the years."

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