By Mae Lee Sun, Inside Tucson Business
Published on Friday, December 12, 2008
Rick Rupkey, president of University Termite & Pest Control, one recent morning was along the perimeter of his office building, with business partner Ryan Horn, simulating what they look for as potential problem areas where pests, such as termites, might gather.
“You have to look closely to see if the downspouts are clogged with leaves or if there are gaps where the pipes come out of the wall. If rocks are butted up against the building, we’d have to suggest moving them out.” says Rupkey, who has learned addressing potential problems in simple ways is the first line of defense in upholding the National Association of Pest Management’s new green standard.
Rupkey, Horn and the 30 technicians they employ suggest things such as caulking and rearranging landscaping.
Rick Rupkey Photo by Mae Lee Sun
Although it can be more labor-intensive to be green, University Termite & Pest Control has been walking that sort of line for years. It was the first Arizona pest management company to be accredited as meeting the QualityPro Green service standard and one of only 19 companies currently certified by the National Association of Pest Management.
The certification requires extensive training and background checks for technicians, following regarding pesticides are applied and documentation and record-keeping of each inspection site.
The methodology harkens back to the 1950s use of Integrated Pest Management techniques used in agriculture. The focus then, as it is now, is on preventative maintenance by eliminating sources of food, water and shelter and looking at environmental factors such as light and humidity, as a deterrent to infestation. It also encourages the introduction of natural predators, such as praying mantis or spiders.
“Seventy-eight percent of people do not use a pest control company and many do their own application. Yet, 80 percent of homeowners have no idea what IPM is but they seem to know what green is,” Rupkey says. “So we have to communicate with customers along the way to make sure they have exhausted mechanical, cultural and biological alternatives before even considering the use of a pesticide. It’s asking questions like ‘Have you sealed the cracks along the floor?’, ‘Are you wiping off the grease around the stove?’ It can be tricky because people don’t want roaches or ants in their kitchen or termites eating their investment and they also don’t want you telling them how to live their lives.”
As they play diplomats, Rupkey says he and his staff also must stay focused on education.
Like holistic medicine, the results are slow in coming compared to conventional pest control measures such as spraying or laying down gel-type products or granules. At some point, he says, they are no longer using a so-called ‘green’ methodology, but that too, he says, is a matter of keeping clients involved. Even ‘green’ can be toxic if used excessively and in the wrong amount.
Dave Burns, a LEED accredited professional and design principle of Burns Wald-Hopkins Architects, says although he is not familiar with the QualityPro Green program, it’s what the industry should be doing since all new construction is required to be treated for termites.
“Quite a few green building measures require more interaction with the end-user,” Burns says. “They (homeowners or facilites management personnel) are part of the solution in counteracting any of these kind of problems. The ultimate goal of building is in being more harmonious with the environment. I have no opinion on how successful this program (QualityPro Green) will be because I haven’t heard of it yet. But it sounds like it’s moving in the right direction.”
Sometimes ‘green’ is not seen as a viable option in commercial situations such as schools, which Rupkey says he finds odd.
“Who’s the most vulnerable population in our community? Children. We want to do our best to keep them healthy,” he says. “Now that we have our certification, one of the first things that we will do is move all of our clients who are schools, into the QPG program. It’s really only a three degree turn for us as a company but this has authority behind it. We can say, you really don’t have to worry about the one ant you saw by the mailbox. Or, we need to look at addressing those six scorpions you found this week.”
Rupkey says he is excited about introducing the program to several school districts he already works with, including Amphitheater Public Schools and the Flowing Wells Unified School District.
University Termite & Pest Control was started in 1974 by Rupkey’s father and a friend after they stopped working for a popular competitor. The company has steadily grown from being centered around the University of Arizona — from which three generations of Rupkeys graduated — to cover the entire state.
Rupkey feels the QualityPro Green program will open up the potential to attract people to pest management who would not have considered it before.
“If people can take the green approach, they will,” he says.