Her Pest-Management Company Has a Social Justice Cause
Photo Credit: Ricky Kharawala/Unsplash
Pest management is about so much more than getting rid of an annoying problem. It’s about keeping people safe and healthy, and creating solutions that help communities on a larger scale. To provide people with non-toxic, sustainable ways to get rid of pests, Rebecca Fyffe founded Landmark Pest Management in 2008. Four years later, she acquired ABC Humane Wildlife Control, the nation’s first commercial nuisance-wildlife control company, founded in 1976.
Fyffe learned firsthand that pest management is tied to public health and social justice — her cousin died very young after contracting encephalitis and meningitis from living amongst bird droppings in a low-income area of Chicago. Landmark Pest Management now helps people like Fyffe’s cousin as it mostly works in underserved communities. It also contributes to scientific studies detecting wildlife diseases that can affect people on a larger scale.
My measure of success isn’t just based on revenue. I’m never going to stop confronting hard problems. I’m always going to work in economically disadvantaged communities.
Fyffe spoke with CircleAround about her innovative company and why she thinks pest management is important.
CA: What are some of your company’s philanthropic goals?
RF: For me, philanthropy is not an afterthought. Contributing to science in the public interest, and helping people lead healthier lives by taking care of the environment, is part of our core mission. Respecting the trust that our clients place in us by conducting business ethically is at the heart of our company values.
My measure of success isn’t just based on revenue. I’m never going to stop confronting hard problems. I’m always going to work in economically disadvantaged communities. I want to be a change agent, and to help people live greener, healthier lives.
CA: How does your social justice mission help clients?
RF: Schools, in particular, choose to work with Landmark because of our social justice mission.
While other pest-control companies will treat a classroom when a child brings bed bugs to school, we go a step further. Many children in our cities are economically disadvantaged and there are obstacles to their education, but disparate access to pest control doesn’t have to be one of them. When a child brings bed bugs to school, we work through the administration to help the student’s family invoke their rights under the Chicago Bed Bug Ordinance.
You can imagine that children who bring bed bugs to school get bullied and made fun of, so for us, it’s not enough to treat the classroom, we want to help level the playing field for that child so they can focus on their studies and not feel embarrassed.
CA: Why is your company’s scientific work especially important during this pandemic?
RF: The importance of studying wildlife diseases that have the potential to spill over from their animal host species to humans has never been more of a shared priority of the global scientific community than it is now. After all, SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — had its origins in bats.
One of [Landmark Pest Management’s] biggest differentiators is that we’re a team of scientists. In fact, Landmark just completed another phase of a study in partnership with other scientific organizations to measure cortisol levels in wildlife hair samples. The specimens are part of a greater zoonotic-surveillance program. Zoonotic-surveillance programs improve the ability to detect new disease threats and document changes in wildlife host-pathogen systems, for which urbanization has significant impacts.
CA: How do you ensure pest management is safe for both animals and humans?
RF: We’re the only pest control company in our marketplace that performs pesticide-susceptibility studies at every site at which insects show resistance. This allows us to deliver better results while using much less pesticide.
Our method is very different. Rather than trying to make every surface where an insect might walk toxic, we use bait formulations that contain active ingredients, like boric acid, which is very effective against insects, but non-toxic to humans and pets. We deliver it in a sweet formula that the insects take back to their queens to kill their own colonies. This allows us to deliver excellent results without using carcinogens, or products that use gas or contain VOCs.
CA: How do you keep pest management interesting and creative?
RF: My favorite part of working in my firm is staying connected to nature. Seeing beavers return to the Chicago River, and visiting mother coyotes and their pups in dens along the lakeshore reminds me of nature’s indomitable spirit. As many insect and rodent pests become resistant to pesticides, my work gives me the opportunity to lead the pest control industry away from an over-reliance on pesticides, and toward greener and more sustainable methods.