Cutting grass while cutting pollution

July 1, 2018 Campus Sustainability Office

Often when we think of gasoline, we think of cars, buses, and motorcycles. But did you know that over 17 million gallons of gas are spilled every year as a result of refueling lawn mowers and garden equipment, according to the EPA? That’s 6 million more gallons than the Exxon Valdez spill in the Gulf of Alaska! If you have a conventional gas-powered lawn mower at home, chances are it is releasing 88 pounds of carbon dioxide and 34 pounds of other pollutants into the atmosphere every year – and that’s just during the warmer months.

Cornell’s Response

Cornell’s Grounds Department recently introduced an electric push mower in order to reduce our carbon footprint every time landscape work needs to be done. The electric mower lives in the courtyard at the Veterinary School, allowing employees to easily transport just the battery for charging rather than the entire machine. While the mower has been hugely successful so far, purchasing more mowers, specifically bigger ride-on’s, is on hold until formal cost-benefit analyses and evaluations can be done. “We are in year two of a three-year trial,” Dan Schied, Director of Grounds, said.

According to Ego, a producer of cordless outdoor power equipment, the annual operating costs of a typical gas-powered mower is $47 while the annual operating costs of a battery-powered mower is only $1.20. This could save Cornell thousands of dollars in the long-run, but up-front costs are usually higher for electric outdoor power equipment. Therefore, the Grounds Department would like to determine durability before committing to purchasing more and bigger electric mowers.

Sustainability in All Areas of Grounds

Electric mowers are not the only focus of the Grounds Department in their work towards sustainability. Several electric power tools have been introduced, such as chainsaws, leaf blowers, and weed whackers. According to Schied, employees have been more than satisfied with these tools because they are quieter, allowing for time flexibility during the day, and safer since workers are not inhaling noxious fumes. “I couldn’t buy them fast enough,” Schied said in regard to employees’ happiness with the new electric tools.

The Grounds Department at Cornell is doing its part every day to help us reach carbon neutrality by 2035. Stay in tuned for more news about a solar trailer that will be able to power any piece of equipment anywhere a truck can bring it.

Visit the Grounds Department website for more information and contact information.