July 8, 2013

Landscapers see green by going green

Contributed Photo
Contributed Photo
Windsor Lock’s Russo Lawn & Landscape Inc. upgraded four of its gasoline-powered mowers to clean-burning propane. As part of its $2,500 “green” investment, the large commercial landscape company also purchased two new eco-friendly mowers.

Two Connecticut landscaping companies are moving away from gas-guzzling, high-maintenance equipment toward more eco-friendly solutions designed to save money, reduce pollution and appeal to savvier customers.

Madison Earth Care is using the sun to power its lawn care equipment in between jobs.

Bob Blundon, president and founder of the company that provides landscaping, lawn maintenance and design services to residential and commercial clients throughout New Haven County, said he wanted lower energy costs and quieter, cleaner, lighter and cheaper equipment that required fewer repairs and less maintenance.

So he turned to solar electric power as the solution.

The electricity generated by the three solar panels mounted on Madison Earth Care's 30-foot trailer feeds charging stations that power up batteries for the company's trimmers and blowers.

Blundon also replaced the landscaping firm's gas-powered gear with quieter, more reliable electric equipment that is easier to use and cheaper to maintain.

Blundon said the solar powered equipment has led to lower maintenance costs, greater reliability, and reduced energy bills. There's also been less downtime for broken equipment.

“We're also seeing the cost savings in labor,” he said. “Our employees are not going to the gas station, spending time waiting in lines and filling cans.”

There are environmental benefits as well, he added.

“The electric equipment is five times less noisy than gas-powered trimmers and blowers, breaks down less and requires less maintenance,” said Blundon. “That slashes our costs, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.”

Kevin Salters, a landscape consultant with Russo Lawn & Landscape Inc. in Windsor Locks, did his own research and found that a 23-horse powered Kawasaki lawn mower operating with propane puts out 50 percent less emissions compared to a gas powered mower.

So, the large, family-owned commercial landscape company has decided to slowly convert its equipment to propane-powered lawn mowers.

So far, they've invested $2,500 to convert four of their gasoline powered mowers to clean burning propone and purchase two additional mowers.

The company has already seen positive results during the first two months, Salters said, but the eco-friendly practice is more than a business strategy, it's about social responsibility.

Gasoline-powered landscape equipment accounts for over 5 percent of urban air pollution, according the Environmental Protection Agency, so cutting down on those emissions can help the environment.

“We are continually looking for ways to help with the green movement since we are truly in the green industry,” Salters said.

Russo Lawn & Landscape was founded in 1990 and has up to 80 workers during the summer peak months. Altogether, the company has 50 mowers in its fleet. Salters said eventually he would like to see all of their mowers operate on propane power.

The company also has two alternative powered vehicles in its fleet, and recycles all of its yard waste at its bulk storage yard.

The use of eco-friendly equipment by landscaping firms is still a relatively new trend.

Blundon said he had previously hired Aegis Solar Energy in Branford to retrofit his home with solar panels when the idea struck him to use the panels for his company.

“As far as I know…there is nobody this side of the Mississippi that is doing this,” said Blundon.

Chris Lenda, president and CEO of Aegis Solar Energy, whose company installs solar systems on houses and businesses, said he's aware of only one other landscape trailer in the country — in California — that uses a solar system to charge its equipment.

“Putting solar panels on a landscape trailer is a first for us,” Lenda said. “The customer came to us with a unique challenge, and we provided a unique solution. With these panels, the sun grows grass and provides the energy to groom it.”

As landscaping firms looks to greener ways of doing business there is a question of return on investment.

Converting to environmentally friendly equipment does require an upfront cost.

Blundon said he spent about $8,000 installing the solar panels on his trailer, but he estimates the investment will pay for itself in six months.

Blundon said before solar power, the business hit the gas station at least twice a week. Now employees only stop once every two weeks.

With gas prices continually hovering around $3.50 per gallon, or higher, the cost savings will be significant in the long run, he said.

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