As one of the largest employers in the south side of San Antonio, Texas, and with 2,000 acres under its care, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, Inc. (TMMTX) is in a position to have an impact on its community.
When TMMTX opened an 11,000-square foot pollinator garden this spring as part of a recent upgrade to its Visitors Center, it took a big step toward ensuring that its impact is one of educating the surrounding community about taking care of the habitats that are crucial to pollinators, creatures that humans depend on to keep their food supply growing.
“We try to teach that one out of three bites of your food is because of a pollinator,” said Nikki Tanzer, environmental specialist at TMMTX. “We are really trying to get that education out to our team members here, and also to the public at large.”
The idea that corporations can take on a leadership role in promoting conservation and environmental stewardship in their communities is central to the work of the Wildlife Habitat Council, a group that promotes and certifies habitat conservation on corporate lands.
Toyota Texas’ campus has been certified with the council for the past four years.
All of this work is part of a larger corporate environmental focus for Toyota. Toyota Global’s Environmental Challenge 2050sets the ambitious goal of transforming the company to have a net-positive impact on the global environment by halfway through the 21stcentury.
That goal is divided into six challenges, and the Texas pollinator garden fits into challenge 6: establishing a future society in harmony with nature.
Global goals start locally
The pollinator garden has a special focus on some of the pollinators that are unique to its location in south-central Texas. San Antonio occupies a key position along the north-south migration routes of monarch butterflies, so native varieties of milkweed have been included.
Another important pollinator native to this area is the Mexican Free-tailed bat. Plans for the continued development of the pollinator garden include the installation of a bat house.
Toyota Texas has already taken steps to make sure its own employees are educated about the importance of bats.
The organization has taken groups of its executives and team members to Bracken Cave. Located just outside San Antonio, Bracken Cave is the summer home of the world’s largest bat colony, housing an estimated 20 million Mexican Free-tailed bats from March through October.
Tanzer said that while many people view bats as a menace or pest, the animals are actually important pollinators. Among the plant species that depend on bats for pollination is the agave plant, used to make tequila.
Partnerships make it possible
Toyota worked with Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) to plan the pollinator garden.
Judit Green, an urban biologist at TPW, helped officials at the plant to carefully select plants that would do well in their location, situated on the line where one type of soil transitions to another.
“She was really cautious to choose what is exactly right for our spot,” said Lisa Brown, an environmental assistant manager who works in environmental stewardship at TMMTX.
With their garden plan in hand, Toyota officials partnered with the San Antonio Zoo to grow the plant species that would populate it.
Brown said partnering with the zoo helped ensure that the plants in the garden were completely free of pesticides.
It also helped strengthen a partnership that predated the garden. Members of the zoo’s staff had previously come to Toyota to learn about the plant’s efforts in recycling materials and water. That led to a conversation about the planned pollinator garden, and the discovery that the zoo’s extensive greenhouse operation could play an important role.
The partnership continues, as TMMTX has committed grant funds to the San Antonio Zoo to help it bring its educational programs to area schools that might not otherwise have the funds to visit the zoo. Another funded project will create pollinator gardens on southside school campuses.
Getting the word out
Schools aren’t the only avenue for educating the wider community about the importance of protecting habitat for pollinators.
TMMTX is a popular field trip destination for the lessons it offers in many aspects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies.
Everyone who enters TMMTX’s newly renovated Visitors Center will now pass through the pollinator garden, which has been equipped with Plants Map interactive plant tags. These tags allow anyone with a smartphone to scan a QR code and pull up more information on that plant’s individual profile page.
This feature has proved popular with all kinds of visitors, from tour groups to corporate executives visiting from Japan. “I love that it’s educational, but then there’s flexibility to put our own stories there,” says Brown.
Tanzer says the garden has changed the way TMMTX’s 23 on-site suppliers think about their own landscaping. “We are getting approached by them saying, ‘How can we do this?’” she said of the native plantings.
In addition to being pollinator-friendly, native plants have the added benefit of being easier—and cheaper—to maintain. That’s a selling point Tanzer and Brown hope will get more people thinking about alternatives to the mowed green lawn, which requires a lot more resources to keep watered and mowed.
“Some of this is about changing the way people think,” Tanzer said. “Perfectly grooming land is not good. If you look at your natural landscape, at least in South Texas, it’s not stuff you have to mow and water.”
To learn more, follow Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, on Plants Map.