Meet Green Business Network member Olivia English, founder of LiveGreenKC, a commercial and residential landscaping company focused on healing ecosystems and feeding communities through regenerative and ecological practices.
Olivia English developed a passion for the environment at a very young age — a passion to make the world a beautiful place to live. One of her earliest memories and inspiration to sustain the environment comes from right after high school when she spent a few months in Hawaii. There, she learned everything was either dumped into the ocean or brought to the mainland as landfill. She saw native trees and animals in Hawaii that were going extinct, and it was a wakeup call for her.
She founded LiveGreenKC in 2016 with the mission of improving neighborhoods through landscape design. She believes life is about more than work and that we all have an opportunity to change our lives from basic to beautiful.
Her team looks to hire and mentor undervalued community members with training and guidance for job-specific skills and life beyond LiveGreenKC. They also work with non-profits such as West Side Housing and in Class B and C properties to make everything a more beautiful place to live. She is fully self-taught and whenever she comes across a new challenge, she is ready to take it as she loves to learn new things.
English says LiveGreenKC has been able to grow at an increasing rate even with the pandemic. Being able to socially distance has been an advantage for them, and they have hired many who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
“Right as the city shut down we locked in a contract for 44 duplexes for the 55 and older community. I was able to hire a lot of people who had lost their jobs, and I had complete creative control, so I picked all native grasses and flowers for the job. We were able to build a community garden and work outside which made last year bearable,” says English.
Anyone working for LiveGreenKC is taught the basic values of caring for the planet and each other.
“While working, if we find a frog, we all pause and admire its existence. We work slower to be mindful of the nature around us and pick up any trash we see on the job site. We go out of our way to recycle and use only vinegar for weed killer,” says English.
English says she considers her business to be pretty far down the road in terms of sustainability.
“I’m always looking for ways to make trash useful and reducing the car trips I take to get materials. The sad thing is all plants come in plastic, which so far, is unavoidable. I’m hoping to one day have a greenhouse so I can choose to use eco-friendly pots.”
One of the biggest challenges though has been changing people’s expectations of what a good lawn looks like.
“It is cheaper to spray chemicals and mow lawns since it is way more affordable and easier. It can cost more up front to build out a healthy ecosystem or garden. It’s still a niche market as most homeowners want a lawn and boxwoods, and native plants can have a messy look to them. It’s hard to educate someone whose idea of a ‘good lawn’ is spraying fertilizer and chemicals and mowing every week.”
When asked if she had any advice for small business owners wanting to incorporate sustainability into their operations, she says “Start small. Pick one thing you know you can do right.”
“There is this word ‘wishcycling’ — the misinformation that you are doing the right thing when it is actually making a bigger mess. Start with what you know you can succeed in and try and add something to that list every month. Most importantly, reducing waste also saves the company money. Talk to your suppliers about shipping material, check to see if you use too many paper towels, etc… find the areas of waste.”
When English is not working, she is a Kansas City, Missouri Parks and Recreation Ambassador; she loves being outside in nature and is a self-described volunteer freak. In addition to her ambassador role, she volunteers with Boys Grow KC, Bridging The Gap, GYRL, litter cleanups, at warming shelters, and with other homeless resources.
English joined the Green Business Network about three years ago because she loved everything Bridging The Gap does for the community and region. She considered the events pre-Covid to be amazing, and she loves knowing that Bridging The Gap loves the planet as much as she does!