As proprietor of “Indigenous Ingenuities,” a landscape design, install, and maintenance firm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Matthew Benzie pursues a multi-pronged program for greening his community. He uses organic products for coping with plant pests and diseases. He encourages customers to go native when it comes to selecting plants for populating their yards, and he sources his plant materials locally as much as he can. He also encourages clients to eliminate superfluous areas of lawn, and if they do insist on cultivating turf, he urges the use of alternative grasses and sedges that require mowing just once a year, or not at all.
Nevertheless, there are still some clients who opt for a patch of traditional turf. Benzie even has a green strategy for dealing with this. He has transitioned his lawn maintenance crew away from the gasoline-powered equipment that used to fill the neighborhood with racket and fumes. Instead, Benzie’s employees use quieter and emission-free, battery powered mowers, blowers and string trimmers. Indeed, even the transportation is quiet and emission free: Benzie’s operator moves the tools from job to job in a custom-designed, bicycle-drawn trailer.
How have the clients reacted? Benzie says that for the most part they haven’t noticed – at all. Because his new equipment is so much quieter, the homeowners, if they are inside when the lawn mower arrives, often don’t notice when the landscaper starts to work.
That’s good news for the homeowner and the neighbors, but even better for the equipment operators. The noise generated by conventional gasoline-powered lawn equipment, especially leaf blowers, takes a toll on landscapers, who must wear ear protection or face the likelihood of permanent damage to their hearing. The noise from the battery-powered equipment is considerably less, and so poses less of a risk to hearing.
The big difference, however, lies in the emissions. Much of the conventional, gasoline-powered lawn maintenance equipment relies on two-stroke engines which are particularly polluting, emitting disproportionate shares of benzene, formaldehyde and other carcinogens as well as fine particulate matter that has been found to contribute to stroke, various kinds of heart disease and asthma, among other conditions. The risk is, of course, greatest to the health of the operator who is exposed to the emissions for hours every day. Battery-powered equipment certainly has its own carbon footprint, but the emissions produced in fueling it are produced at the power station, which is much more carefully controlled in terms of pollutants than the sort of dirty-burning gasoline engines typical of the lawn maintenance industry. Furthermore, the battery-powered equipment switches off the moment the operator removes his or her finger from the throttle; the gasoline-powered equipment just drops to an idle, continuing to pollute, albeit at a lower level.
Benzie says that his switch to battery-powered equipment has been made possible by recent improvements in battery technology, improvements which enable them to deliver more power and hold a charge longer. Still, he notes, the technology is “not quite there yet” for him to abandon gasoline-powered equipment altogether. The battery-powered blowers, for example, are not powerful enough to handle larger leaf removal jobs. Benzie hopes, though, that as more landscapers invest in battery-powered equipment, the growth of that market will spark more competition among manufacturers with consequent improvement in the product.
If Benzie is right, then, who knows, the time when autumn in the suburbs is a cacophony of competing landscape crews and a smog of petrochemical pollutants may finally be drawing to a close.