Increasing heat and drought have posed unique problems for Big Muddy Workshop.
In the past, clients of the Omaha-based landscape architecture firm that emphasizes sustainable design preferred ornamental plantings. Today, Big Muddy urges clients to use native, drought-tolerant ones, such as oak trees.
A new report suggests such a shift in response to climate change is necessary for the success of a small business like Big Muddy, which employs six people. The firm was one of several small businesses highlighted Thursday in a report on how small businesses are uniquely vulnerable to a changing climate.
The report by Small Business Majority and the American Sustainable Business Council discussed how small businesses can increase revenue by adapting business models and launching new products or services to take advantage of how climate change is affecting consumer demand.
Small businesses are particularly vulnerable because of lack of access to the capital and resources of large corporations. Plus, small businesses often operate out of a single location and don't have backup resources at another facility.
For example, one-third of small-business owners reported in a June poll by the Small Business Majority that they have been personally affected by extreme weather, while nearly 60 percent said extreme weather events are an urgent problem.
Up to 30 percent of the 60,000 to 100,000 small businesses negatively affected by Hurricane Sandy have failed because of the storm, according to the U.S. Chamber Foundations Business Civic Leadership Center.
Big Muddy President and CEO John Royster said that as a lifelong resident of the Great Plains, changes in weather are all too familiar. The past couple of years have posed even more severe problems, with record flooding in 2011 and a drought last year that's still lingering.
“Seeing these changes in weather in my 30-year career, we need to look at doing things in different ways,” he said.
Selecting the right or wrong plants can mean major economic consequences. One project Big Muddy is working on includes 800 new trees. Depending on the species, each is worth from $150 to $400. If the plants are not adapted to the climate and die, the client could suffer losses in the ballpark of $200,000 total and look to Big Muddy to pay.
In addition to switching from ornamental to native plants, Big Muddy has expanded into areas of business like stormwater management and invested in employees' continuing education. Each year, Big Muddy employees are granted up to 60 hours of further education so they're better at selecting plants that can survive in changing weather.
Royster said each of the changes are strategic in ensuring Big Muddy succeeds.
“We have to look proactively at how we can change our business to help it flourish,” he said.