The grounds are going green

An electric lawnmower on green grass

In an effort to reduce noise and air pollution and reduce the use of nonrenewable fossil fuels, NAU is transitioning much of its landscaping equipment to electric-powered tools.  

The transition is projected to save thousands of dollars in fuel costs in the next decade and is part of the continued efforts by NAU’s Green Fund to make the university more sustainable in the long-term and a better place to live and work for students, faculty and staff.  

The project, led by students in the Climate and Science Solutions (CSS) graduate program in collaboration with Facility Services and the Office of Sustainability, launched this fall. For the first phase of the project, and using money allocated from the Green Fund, Facility Services purchased electric lawnmowers, trimmers, a leaf blower, chainsaw and the necessary batteries and chargers (replacing the gas-powered tools). This is acting as an initial pilot phase for a more comprehensive transition in the future. 

“The initiative to electrify our handheld landscaping equipment serves a dual purpose,” said Avi Henn, program manager in the Office of Sustainability. “It addresses the pressing need to reduce emissions associated with the older gas-powered machinery, aligning with our overarching goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Secondly, this transition prioritizes the well-being of our grounds staff, who rely on this equipment regularly, by mitigating potential health hazards.”  

Why electric tools? 

Tongayi Mwedzi, a master’s student in the CSS program, said the cohort chose this project because it addressed air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and noise pollution, all of which have significant negative impacts on both the environment and human health. Small-engine pieces of equipment often are two-stroke, which emit high levels of particulate matter (PM2.5), a hazardous air pollutant linked to cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, as well as environmental degradation, he said. These engines also generate excessive noise levels, causing discomfort and potential health issues for the campus community, which is only amplified for the workers using the equipment. Electric-powered equipment addresses each of these concerns. 

“Additionally, the financial benefits of lower maintenance costs and long-term savings make this switch a cost-effective and sustainable choice, in line with the university’s dedication to climate solutions and sustainability,” Mwedzi said. 

Electric tools saw dramatic decreases in allforms of pollutions. The team calculated that switching to electric would lead to an almost 99 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from groundskeeping tools. 

Working with Facility Services, the students developed a list of priority equipment that could be replaced with electric tools without losing efficiency and without putting additional work or strain on the groundskeeping crews. 

After the initial outlay of purchasing new equipment, NAU also will see significant cost savings, particularly as the price of gas goes up; the team estimated that NAU will pay about $5,000 in electricity costs in the next 10 years, compared to almost $60,000 in projected fuel costs. 

The first phase is seeing positive results; Shawn Pinkoski, grounds manager for Facility Services, said the team likes the electric equipment, although they’ve found the mowers to be heavier than gas-powered mowers and require two people to lift into trucks. They are making adjustments as needed, and Fegyveresi and his students, as they look into Phase 2, are examining ways to mitigate those difficulties. It’s all part of the scientific process. 

NAU Communications