ClimateScaping saves precious water Email
Written by Colorado Green Now   
Monday, October 23, 2023 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

ClimateScaping saves precious water, one yard— and mind—at a time

by Robyn Lawrence

Tara O’Brien has a big vision. She wants to help Coloradans conserve 90 million gallons of water through xeriscaping and, at the same time, help landscape companies make more money by working together. And with her new company, Boulder-based ClimateScaping, she has the platform to make both things happen. O’Brien, an adjunct professor who teaches entrepreneurship and global business at the University of Colorado Boulder, realized just how much water Colorado lawns guzzle after experimenting on her own 2,300-square-foot yard in Longmont. In the process of replacing her yard’s Kentucky bluegrass with xeriscaping three years ago, she stopped watering and has saved approximately 65,000 gallons every summer.

“There are so many houses that are similar to mine, and I think in the next couple of years we could hit that 90 million gallons— and that’s still really not even a dent,” she says. It will take a united landscaping community to make this happen, O’Brien says, and she’s well aware that won’t be easy. At last year’s ProGreen EXPO, she was shocked at how many landscapers raised their hands during education sessions to ask why saving water and xeriscaping were important. “We gotta fix that,” she says.

Re-creating the modern yard

If anyone can open the landscaping community’s minds and hearts to the importance of water conservation, it would be O’Brien. With a background in business development and venture capital, she’s helped launch countless startups. She had been feeling the itch to start a company of her own for many years, but it couldn’t be just any company. It had to be one that would make a difference.

Then, a couple years ago, she did a consulting project with a landscaping company that required her to sit in on a lot of discussions about water rights, and she got up close and personal with “how dire the water situation is in Colorado,” she says. She had found a need she could fulfill: educating landscapers about xeriscaping while helping residents acquire state and federal grants for low-water projects.

O’Brien launched ClimateScaping with a mission to re-create the modern yard in ways that will address the water crisis in the West. Her first step was to acquire a landscaping company founded by two of her students at CU, who stayed on for about nine months to show O’Brien the ropes and help raise money. Then she put together a team of 10, primarily CU students studying business, landscape design, horticulture and environmental science.

“I just really love the idea of students coming out with this fresh, wanna-save-the-world mentality and bringing the latest technology into this ancient industry,” she says.

Growing partnerships and community

ClimateScaping launched in May with one client, a CU professor who had just bought a home with a yard overtaken by 3-foot-tall noxious weeds. ClimateScaping partnered with another landscaping company to scrape the topsoil and remove the weeds, then designed and installed a xeriscape. When several neighbors asked if O’Brien’s team could take on their yards next, she knew she was on to something.

Last summer, ClimateScaping worked with clients in Boulder and Longmont, and the company is starting to help Louisville residents who are rebuilding after the Marshall Fire. ClimateScaping often partners with other landscaping companies to provide services like hardscaping that it doesn’t have the capability to do itself.

“We spent a lot of time over the summer getting to understand what people want,” O’Brien says. “And it’s so fascinating to me to see how genuinely excited people are about this.”

Because maintenance is so critical to keeping xeriscapes attractive, ClimateScaping provides annual contracts for “comprehensive garden and landscape stewardship,” including weeding, plant health assessments and treatments, water monitoring and irrigation, plant division and replacement, and much more. “So, clients always get to see the pretty,” O’Brien says. “We just don’t ever let them see the weeds.”

O’Brien has plans to expand the company to include FireScapes, defensible yards that protect homes with fire-resistant plants and materials, and FoodScapes, fresh produce gardens. But she is most excited about helping other landscapers open ClimateScaping businesses across Colorado through an open-source model.

“My goal is to build a model that we can give to all landscapers—how to educate and sell xeriscaping to homeowners, how to train staff, how to plant the plants so they’ll actually survive—so it’s like a force that spreads across the West,” she says. “I would love to get more landscape companies thinking bigger picture rather than just the jobs they need to do this week. If we band together, even a little bit, I think landscapers can make five times as much money as they are right now.”

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