Facilities Services purchases new electric lawnmowers

Courtesy of Tufts' Office of Sustainability

Tufts Facilities Services Department has brought two new electric lawnmowers to campus this semester in an effort to move toward sustainable and low-impact technology.

The decision to purchase the electric lawnmowers, which was made by Facilities Services Grounds Supervisor John Vik in conjunction with the Office of Sustainability (OOS), was intended to decrease noise, diminish emissions and drive up awareness of the ecological benefits of switching to electric-powered alternative-fuel vehicles, according to Vik.

The OOS was interested in making the switch because the reduction in polluting emissions and the transition to electrically-powered equipment would have far-reaching positive social implications, according to OOS Program Director Tina Woolston.

“We want a cleaner campus for the students and a better environment for the workers,” Woolston said. “The noise of the regular … conventional machines is above what people should be exposed to. It can cause deafness and damage … and it really impedes the ability to teach when lawnmowers prevent you from being able to pay attention or hear.”

In June, the OOS and the nonprofit organization Quiet Communities, which works to educate the public about the damaging effects of gas-powered outdoor equipment and promotes the use of quieter and more environmentally sustainable technologies, hosted a conference at Tufts on new technologies for outdoor landscaping. 

“I had been trying to convert to electric equipment … and they represented the best technology out there,” Vik said. “[Quiet Communities] convinced us that with these improved run-times, it would be viable [to purchase this new equipment].”

In 2004, the university purchased the Electric Ox, another electric tractor mower for maintaining the grounds. Vik said that while the machine is no longer functional, he recalls its power and maneuverability and expects the new machines, which are being used primarily on the Academic Quad and on the President’s Lawn, to be just as efficient with relatively minimal upkeep.

“The maintenance on these is much simpler,” he said. “There are no engines, there is no oil, there is no gas … all that goes away. And the motors are modular, so if one breaks, you just take it out and put a new one in. You don’t have to take heads off and valves out. It is much, much easier.”

Vik emphasized that these new models were selected with their long run-times in mind. He hopes to convert the entire fleet of grounds-care equipment to electric power within the next five years.

“Because this battery technology is so new, we don’t want to convert all [at once],” he said. “We just wanted to try a couple and see if they did what they claimed to do. The big 60-inch mower was around $20,000, and that’s more expensive than the conventional mower, but the savings over a seven-year period [are] more than double the price of the mower.”

Vik also underscored his desire to involve students more directly in the process of conversion to sustainable technologies, noting the potential for opportunities for engineering students to install solar power stations across campus to charge the new equipment.

Angela Bell, an eco-rep for Hill Hall, expressed appreciation for the lengths that the Facilities Services team has gone to in acquiring the new lawnmower, but echoed Vik’s sentiments for growing the “green” on campus.

“They really deserve a lot of credit for taking care of the nitty-gritty end of sustainability,” Bell, a junior, told the Daily in an email. “Of course, there’s always more we can do, and I’d love to see Tufts continue to upgrade our facilities with more energy-efficient/clean energy options, such as the low-flush toilets, solar panels, lights that go off automatically, etc. Another eco-rep suggested an emergency hotline for fixing leaks in dorms so that students could bypass lengthier work order processes for fast fixes.”

Bell cited high costs, difficult implementation and a laundry list of pressing issues the university deals with on a daily basis as possible impediments to progress in the realm of sustainability on campus. She also referenced other self-imposed barriers, such as a simple lack of understanding of how to go about making a change toward more environmental awareness.

Both Bell and Woolston agreed that going green begins at a grassroots level. In order for greater change to occur within the university, students will have to demonstrate that this is something they value and would like to be a priority on the university’s agenda.

“This whole school exists for the students, so I really feel like when there is an opportunity to make a change that makes the learning environment better for the students and helps the environment, that is something that should be a high priority,” Woolston said. “If students really wanted [more electric lawnmowers], the university would probably find a way to make that happen. It would be easier to make the argument that we should spend a little extra to buy that equipment.”