Money isn't the only green stuff that businesses can get from the federal government. Your company may be able to obtain free plants and shrubs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which makes vegetation available under a program to preserve flora species and promulgate soil conservation.

If the soil on your premises lacks vegetation, suffers erosion, or is subject to damaging conditions, contact the local office of the USDA's Soil Conservation Service (SCS) and ask to have a district conservationist evaluate the site. There is a district field office in almost every county in the United States. If the conservationist decides the grounds need remedial care, he will consult a USDA plant specialist to see if the environmental problems match any of the specialist's testing needs. If they do the specialist will provide seeds and planting assistance for a wide variety of plant life. In return, your only obligations are to provide normal care of the plants and allow the SCS to survey the vegetation periodically.

The government, which spends about $4 million a year on the program, conducts it with the ultimate intention of providing free seeds of successful species to commercial growers.

The New Jersey Zinc Co., a $150-million mining and industrial specialty products company in Palmerton, Pa., occupies a site with dry, thin soil exacerbated by smelting operations and furnace residue dumping. The government deemed the despoiled area an ideal testing opportunity, and asked the company for permission to plant vegetation and ground cover on about five acres. It also supplied limestone, fertilizer, and other materials. One variety of plant introduced and now widespread on the site is Armeria maritima, a sturdy, flowering plant with pinkish petals that flourishes in stressful environments.

"It's a mutually beneficial agreement," says Maurice Silvestris, the company's environmental control engineer. "They get the opportunity to develop and study some plant species, and we get a prettier backyard for free."