Russ Ringland would like you to think of all the beautiful buildings and homes his company, Ringland Construction, has built over the last 20 years.
But many people know Ringland as the man who has led a small army of volunteers to plant more than 7,000 trees in Cape Coral over the last eight years. “I was green before it was cool,” Ringland laughs.
Ultimately, Ringland, 45, says he hopes to plant 20,000 trees through an urban forestry program he launched in 2004. Most of the trees will be planted along the Veterans Parkway corridor in Cape Coral, a stretch of road that was denuded of vegetation when builders widened the highway.
Ringland's conservation-minded focus is unusual in the building industry. Sure, many construction companies now adhere to so-called “green” industry practices, but Ringland goes further than the green washing that many companies do.
And Ringland says he's anxious for people not to think that his tree-planting effort is simply a marketing ploy. Ringland says he's doing it out of a genuine concern for the area.
Of course, goodwill generates business. “I want people to think Ringland Construction made a positive contribution,” Ringland says. Recently, more than 200 people emailed him to congratulate him on his company's 20-year anniversary. Charles Ringland, Russ Ringland's father, started the company in 1992 and Russ and his brother, John Ringland, now run the company.
But goodwill from planting thousands of trees isn't the key to landing new business. Ringland is a frequent networker, especially among bankers, Realtors and commercial brokers. “It's that work plus the friendships I've made that got us through this period,” Ringland says.
Unlike some environmentalists who oppose any new development, Ringland argues the environment is what attracts people to the region and is an economic-development tool for growth. “It's the key to our success down here,” he says. “They're not just coming for jobs.”
Ringland is a supporter of Lee County's Conservation 20/20, a government land-buying program that has come under scrutiny recently for purchases that some deemed excessive during the downturn. Ringland says the county could double the acres it owns now in conservation and there would still be plenty of room for construction firms to build homes and businesses.
Ringland says it's unfair for environmentalists to lump the construction industry into the anti-environment camp. Contractors have been some of the most ardent supporters of the urban forestry project because they spend their free time outdoors. “A lot of subs and contractors like to fish and hunt,” Ringland says.
With the help of Rotary Club, Ringland planted the first 100 trees in 2004 on Veterans Parkway. Last year, volunteers armed with shovels planted 2,000 trees. “Two years ago we had over 100 volunteers for one tree planting,” Ringland says. His effort is independent and not affiliated with any outside organization.
Ringland, who publishes an urban forestry newsletter two or three times a year, plants cypress and pine trees in June so the rainy season can help them root without costly watering. It costs about $5,000 to $10,000 a year and Kiwanis Club now supports the program. Five Guys Burgers and Fries were the corporate sponsors this year.