Landscaping with a Mission
Rubicon Landscape Group transforms lives by lifting people out of poverty
Rubicon Landscape Group (Rubicon Landscape), located in Richmond, California, is not your run-of-the-mill landscaping company. The business was launched more than 30 years ago as a social enterprise to support the life-changing mission of its parent nonprofit, Rubicon Programs.
Rubicon Programs’ mission is to help individuals develop the economic mobility that will lift them out of poverty by educating them in four areas: developing income, building assets, fostering wellness and forging connections. Last year, the organization had 1,403 participants who completed the comprehensive Stepping Stones program.
Each participant served by Rubicon Programs has a unique situation. Many may be reentering society and the workforce after incarceration; some might be unemployed and struggling to find work; others need extra coaching and assistance to make their career goals a reality. Every one of them is trying to find a path out of poverty and better their long-term future.
This is the mission that Rubicon Landscape supports by providing landscaping and comprehensive grounds maintenance to private commercial properties, city municipalities and large government sites, including Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system locations at Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Livermore.
It’s the dedication to helping people break the cycle of poverty that inspires the Rubicon Landscape team. “We have the hardest-working folks that I’ve ever encountered,” says Lourdes Haro, Rubicon Landscape’s General Manager. “I’ve worked at different nonprofits and never have I seen the passion that I have seen here at Rubicon Landscape.”
Imagine a landscaping crew leader who starts his day at 4 a.m. so he can pick up his co-workers, some with disabilities, so they can report to work on time before their 6 a.m. shift begins at the VA campus. “After a full day of work, this individual still manages to be a father to eight foster kids. He does it with the same vitality he displays on the job. That’s the kind of individual that works for us,” Haro says.
Many Rubicon Landscape employees who work at the VA divisions are part of the AbilityOne program, one of the nation’s largest providers of jobs for people who have significant disabilities. Haro notes that, while landscaping is typically focused on how hard someone can work physically, the crew leaders at Rubicon Landscape do everything they can to find a way for anyone—no matter their physical abilities—to contribute. “It’s a testament to our supervisors and their skills. They’ve managed to find people’s strengths and make them productive,” she says.
And for the employees of Rubicon Landscape, it’s not just about doing a job, it’s about taking pride in the mission of serving others and having a sense of ownership in the work they perform.
“We look for employees with the sensitivity to embrace our larger mission and values of hard work, integrity and teamwork,” Haro explains. “We have 50+ employees in our division, and a good 20 of them have been with Rubicon more than 15 years. They’ve cultivated a culture of pride and stewardship. They feel a sense of ownership of the jobs they service on a regular basis, whether it’s the U.S. Coast Guard properties on the Alameda and Yerba Buena islands, the VA properties or the municipal cities we have longstanding contracts with.”
This sense of ownership led to Rubicon Landscape being recognized by the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) when it won the 2018 CLCA East Bay Chapter’s Small Commercial Maintenance award for its work at the Tropic Sands Apartments in Alameda.
Since 1997, Rubicon Landscape has also had a contract with the city of San Francisco’s Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) to provide grounds maintenance services on Treasure Island.
As part of that contract, Rubicon Landscape partners with a Treasure Island-based nonprofit, One Treasure Island, to provide hands-on landscape training and employment opportunities. One Treasure Island has a similar mission to that of Rubicon Programs—the organization is focused on helping people who have experienced homelessness. By training these individuals in the landscape trade, Rubicon Landscape is providing them with a path to employment and setting them up for success in the landscape industry.
Haro explains that Treasure Island is currently undergoing extensive development, with high-rises, hotels and walking trails being added, offering Rubicon Landscape the opportunity to expand the services it offers there. Treasure Island is also in the process of adding more housing that is set aside for individuals who were formerly homeless. With this addition, Haro says, the population of Treasure Island is growing, providing a larger pool of participants for the landscaping organization’s training program since most trainees come from the local area.
With the growth of Treasure Island, Haro says, “there’s no better opportunity for us. It’s a win-win for us to be able to hire locally and expand our training program to help more people.”
As Rubicon Landscape continues its mission of helping people out of poverty, the company is also focused on securing a better future for its community by protecting the area against the effects of climate change.
One way the business does this is by investing in green equipment and methodologies, such as electric leaf blowers and weed steam abatement units that comply with city ordinances for non-chemical approaches. Rubicon Landscape has also taken a proactive approach in developing low-toxic mixtures of different chemicals that can serve as an alternative to harmful pesticides.
Water conservation is also front and center. Many of Rubicon Landscape’s managers are ReScape qualified and Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers (QWELs), who understand and can implement landscaping practices that meet the changing nature of landscaped areas. For example, something as simple as mulching can save water.
“There’s a changing impression of what an urban landscape should be,” Haro says. “Now there’s more of a focus on natural landscapes. It’s not just a big green lawn anymore. Landscapes are changing, and we’re trying to change with them.”
Haro points out that Rubicon Landscape also looks for customers who embrace the sustainability practices that the business wants to model. “We want to work with companies that maintain the same philosophy we do and are willing to walk the walk with us,” she says.
Rubicon Landscape’s forward-thinking approach also extends to how it can impact employees’ futures. The company not only invests in the mission of Rubicon Programs, but it also invests in its own people. “Rubicon is very special because they really do look at growing and developing their own,” Haro says.
Haro has benefited from that investment herself. The significance of being a woman serving in her role in a male-dominated industry isn’t lost on her. She credits Rubicon Landscape with providing her with the incredible opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. “I’m grateful that they’ve given me a chance to lead this division,” she says.