April 16 2013 12:27 AM

New Irrigation Controller Installed

When you think of going green, the Progressive Auto Insurance Company probably doesn’t spring to mind. But you might want to think again.… Over the years, as Progressive Insurance grew, it added locations in the Cleveland, Ohio area, along with irrigation and landscaping. Before you knew it, there were 14 different irrigation systems (some of which are 20 miles away from each other) with 250 stations irrigating more than 20 acres of landscape at various Progressive Insurance locations in Cleveland.

By adding facilities and landscaping as they grew, Grounds Manager Brian Smith began to realize that their irrigation system was inefficient. If it rained or you needed to change the water schedule, you had to go to all the sites, and that would take a full day.

Smith began doing extensive research. He checked out all of the central controllers that he was aware of; he went to a number of trade shows to see the equipment in operation. While attending a trade show, Smith found Rain Master and iCentral.

After much investigation, he decided on the iCentral controller. “It was the best system that seemed to fit our requirements,” said Smith. “Not only for the sites, but it also met the software restrictions that are required by institutions.” The new system was installed in 2010.

The iCentral allowed him the opportunity to link all of the company’s control boxes to satellites. He is now able to access his controllers from the Internet—a major timesaver.

When I arrived at Progressive as irrigation manager in 2011, all the pieces of a great system were there, they just needed to be put together. They had an Internet-enabled irrigation control center that linked all of the control boxes to satellites, allowing remote access. Currently, all of the irrigation systems are working to their maximum efficiency and even in Cleveland, where water requirements are not as strict as in other parts of the country, using water in an efficient manner is extremely important.

Knowing plant types and watering requirements for different plant species is key to determining an irrigation schedule. When the irrigation systems were installed at various Progressive campuses, the plants of choice were junipers, ground ivy and daylilies.

As the landscape evolved to what it is today, which is a botanical-like setting that has hundreds of different plant types—most of which are labeled for employees’ and visitors’ information—the irrigation systems did not evolve along with it. Separating irrigation zones depending on the plants being watered, whether it is turf, established trees or perennials, is an ongoing project and will be for quite awhile. Using the newest technology in irrigation equipment in the right applications is instrumental in making the systems as efficient and as sustainable as possible.

Being sustainable is not about turning off the water, but using it the correct, most efficient way. With the use of multi-spray rotating nozzles that deliver a matched precipitation rate regardless of your radius and arc, areas are being watered in a more uniform manner. Micro and drip irrigation have been huge water-savers, especially in buffer areas where trees are ringed with gravel, allowing us to water just the trees and not the surrounding gravel.

In 2010, Progressive started to collect and record rainwater at one site.

The collection area now has a holding capacity of 4,000 gallons of recaptured rainwater from 650 square feet of roof space. It has captured enough water to irrigate flowerpots at various locations, as well as being used for pressure-washing entrances, parking garages and vehicles.

As of the beginning of this year, the Northeast Regional Sewer District started a Regional Stormwater Management Program that introduced fees based on the amount of impervious surfaces for each parcel of land. This fee not only applies to corporations but affects homeowners in the serviced areas as well. Because of the fees involved, it has made people re-think renovating their landscapes. The program is used to encourage owners and operators of property to think about managing their stormwater, and where it’s headed after it hits the ground.

In the Cleveland area, Progressive has millions of square feet of impervious surfaces, including all rooftops and parking areas, that the fee is applied to. By receiving credits and deductions for managing our stormwater correctly, we have a great tool to not only be sustainable but also to save money while doing so.

Now, more than one-half acre of rooftop gardens and green spaces help decrease the costs for heating and cooling. In 2012, two herb and vegetable gardens at two different campuses were built. Here, herbs and vegetables are grown, which are used by the food service provider in the meals prepared daily.

Not only do these projects save the company money on its water and power bills, they are conserving important resources and are ecologically compliant.

As the name goes, Progressive Insurance is not only progressive, but proactive as well. They have always encouraged employees to use their outdoor landscaped environment. Many of their employees take advantage of the grounds, whether to have lunch on the outdoor patios, work out on the two outdoor TRX training stations, or to have a meeting in the outdoor conference area.

People are always admiring the landscape and there are constant questions about how, why, and what we are doing. With so much interest, Progressive has offered classes to their employees, and training on a variety of topics. Classes on composting (Progressive has composted nearly 700 yards of organic material from their sites since 2009, including 20 tons of coffee grounds collected weekly from five different sites) to container gardening.

Along with Progressive employees, students from a local horticulture school come and help with the changing of seasonal displays, planting trees, splitting perennials, caring for tropical plants, and irrigation work. This gives them a great opportunity to learn all aspects of horticulture and get a hands-on lesson.

Whether building and donating all materials and labor for a community vegetable garden or taking an empty plot of land in Cleveland and turning it into a rain garden with a park-like setting, Progressive is on the cutting edge of showing what a good corporate citizen can do to improve a community.

Under Smith’s leadership, sustainability has become a part of Progressive’s DNA.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert Gehrs is the irrigation manager at Progressive Insurance.