April 14, 2021

At the New American University, Arizona State University is committed to accessibility. As an ASU student, you can learn just about anything from almost anywhere. And if students choose to study in person, they’ll find themselves immersed in one or more of ASU’s five physical locations — each with their own unique look and feel. And behind the scenes, there is a whole team that helps make each location a beautiful place to learn and work.

The ASU Grounds Services team maintains and cares for every square inch of ASU’s 640 acres on the Tempe campus. This round-the-clock job includes mowing lawns, emptying landfill and recycling bins, trimming hedges and planting desert-adapted trees; the task requires a lot of equipment. So when ASU was striving to achieve AASHE’s STARS Platinum status, the grounds team had an idea.

Michael Meyer, manager in ASU Facilities Management and leader of the Tempe Grounds Services team, has been interested in using electric rather than gas-powered equipment for several years. 

“Until recently, there has not been good, commercial grade cordless electric equipment available. Battery life has been an issue,” Meyer said. “While 20-30 minutes of operation time may suffice for a homeowner working in their yard, our requirements are much higher. We typically have 15-17 people using blowers each morning for up to two to three hours. We also have crew members using blowers for hours at a time on the night shift.”

In March 2020, ASU Grounds Services launched an innovative partnership. A company called Husqvarna was looking to produce commercially viable electric-powered equipment for use in the greens industry — landscaping, arbor care, golf-course maintenance, etc. ASU Tempe Grounds Services was loaned multiple items of equipment to try out indefinitely, and the eLeaf Blowers stood out for several reasons. 

Noise

The noise reductions have benefits for the public. In the past, the noise of the gas blowers was the cause of frequent complaints, according to Meyer.

“We find, with the reduction in noise, that we have fewer complaints from people on campus and are able to work longer in areas that were problematic before, such as residence halls,” Meyer said. “Several groundskeepers reported being approached by passersby and complimented on the use of the electric equipment. They are mostly pleased with the quietness and the display of innovation on campus.” 

 “These eLeaf Blowers require no gas, oil or filters and almost no maintenance beyond charging batteries.” — Michael Meyer, grounds services manager

In addition to the public benefit, noise reductions have hearing benefits to the Grounds Services team. 

“In a noise monitoring study performed on campus with our groundskeepers, the results showed eLeaf Blower levels were at or below 74.2 decibels for our operators,” Meyer said. “Other gas-powered blowers we have used were as high as 104 decibels and can lead to hearing loss.” 

Fuel and emissions

Gas-powered leaf blowers are known to have very high emissions. The gas blowers have two-cycle engines which use a mix of regular gasoline and special oil. 

“Our gas-powered leaf blowers use the most fuel out of all our equipment,” said Meyer. “Since using the eLeaf Blowers, we have seen a 13% reduction in fossil fuel use over the past six months.”

Other health benefits

The eLeaf Blowers have been in use daily for about a year, and initial reactions are positive. Although some crew members were initially skeptical, overall the team is quite satisfied with the new blowers. 

“The run times are adequate. The blowers weigh about the same as their gas-powered counterparts, but the weight distribution seems more ergonomic and vibrates less,” said Meyer. “This is important when wearing the backpack for several hours daily. Additionally, there is no fuel to leak on to skin and clothing or the ground.”

ASU Grounds Services has been an early leader in sustainability practices, which included launching Compost Cycle, designating the ASU Arboretum and pioneering the Campus Harvest program, among others. In support of ASU’s Climate Positive Sustainability Goal, Meyer believes “this equipment is taking us a step further toward a greener, sustainable campus.” 

Written by Kendon Jung.

Top photo: Two grounds workers use the new eLeaf Blowers near the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus. Photo by Emmanuel Padilla