Caring for campus grounds has become a quieter experience and more comfortable for landscape services employees, as Western works to eliminate gas-powered units on campus.
Facilities Management has recently added two electric John Deere Gator utility vehicles (UTVs) to its landscape services fleet, replacing a carbon-intensive equipment truck that has been reallocated to another department (eliminating the need to purchase another gas-powered vehicle).
“The Gators are pedestrian-scale, making them better suited for our campus environment in terms of safety and visibility,” said Mike Lunau, manager, landscape services.
The two-seated UTVs, with on board charging units, transport landscape crew members – and an assortment of handheld electric tools, including grass trimmers and leaf blowers – as they maintain the grounds throughout Western’s core campus and at the Ivey Business School.
Much of all landscape services’ handheld power tools and push mowers are now electric. The move to battery-powered equipment began five years ago, as Lunau and his crew began trialing the equipment as part of Western’s overall effort to reduce carbon emissions.
Three of the campus’ eight summer maintenance operations zones have now transitioned to battery-powered hand-held and walk-behind equipment, which can be charged through regular 110-volt outlets. An electric zero-turn ride on mower was purchased last fall.
“There’s the obvious, significant advantage of not having to use fossil fuels, with a lot of literature showing walk-behind push lawn mowers, trimmers and blowers are some of the highest polluting uses of fossil fuels, given the inability to put emission controls on those machines,” Lunau said.
“The benefit for our team is the tools are a little lighter and easier to manage ergonomically and operate with less vibration. They’re also much quieter, making it nicer for our teams, to not have a screaming engine in their ears, but also for the campus community and our clients, whether it’s eliminating noise outside a conference room at Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre or our classrooms on campus.”
Autonmous electric mower at Ivey Business School
The landscape team is currently trying out an autonomous battery-powered mower in the interior courtyard at the Ivey Business School.
The mower helps address a challenge the courtyard brings as one of the unique landscape points on campus. Previously, the only way to access and maintain the courtyard’s grassed area was to drive a gas-mower in and out of the building. The electric mower stays (and is charged) in the courtyard, operated by a guide wire running around the perimeter.
Goal to go ‘all electric’
With sustainability a key pillar in the university’s strategic plan,Towards Western at 150, Bryan Wakefield, director of Facilities Operations said reducing emissions on gas internal combustion engines—in addition to reducing scope one emissions from the university’s power plant and heating systems—will continue to be a priority in Western’s overall sustainability and decarbonization strategy.
“Our goal is to be eventually all electric with our hand-held tools,” Wakefield said. “It’s a benefit from an employee standpoint in terms of ergonomics and employees’ wellness, health, and safety and has lessened the noise and emissions affecting the campus community.”
With a team of approximately 16 staff responsible for maintaining the grounds on Western’s core campus, at the Research Park, Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre and Gibbons Lodge, “any efficiencies we can make to ease the heavy lifting over the summer months and to help our staff become more mobile is a good investment,” Wakefield said. “And overall, they’ve embraced the shift and the changing technology and the direction we’re taking to increase sustainability and decarbonization on campus.”
Four new electric vans added to Western fleet
After experiencing delays and inventory shortages awaiting electric alternatives over the past few years, Western is now building on gains made prior to the pandemic to reduce carbon emissions.
Two Ford-E Transit electric vans arrived in August, with a third expected this month and a fourth by the end of the calendar year.
“Our commitment going forward will be to transition the majority of our vehicles to electric where possible year over year,” Wakefield said, noting some heavier equipment such as snowplows and delivery trucks aren’t currently available in an electric option.
The vans will be powered at two EV charging stations at the Support Services building, which were recently installed, along with four other charging stations, as part of an overall plan that will eventually see 74 EV stations across campus.The $1.45 million upgrade was funded by Western and Natural Resources Canada.
With a commitment to achieve net-zero emissions for campus operations by 2050 and plans to create a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly biodiverse campus, Wakefield and Lunau said their unit will continue to explore sustainable alternatives that address the scope and complexity of the campus’s changing needs and landscapes.