From the Student:
Dear Facilities Management,
I would like to bring to your attention something that could possibly be modified in the future. I have been noticing the use of gas powered machinery, specifically leaf blowers for leaves and other sidewalk debris as spring has come into season and more petals and grass clippings find their way onto the campus walkways. I know that leaf blowers are viewed as the standard for “fast and easy” cleanup of sidewalks and the campus, but it has come to my attention that this practice might not be the best for the campus environment as well as the global environment.
Gas Leaf blowers and Gas weed whackers are quite loud, especially in the close proximity to multiple story campus buildings where the sound reverberates and reflects throughout campus. “The average blower measures 70-75 dB at 50ft according to nonoise.org, while they are commonly used on campus at distances of less than 50 feet. It is also a property of physics that “The decibel scale is logarithmic–each increase of 10, say 60 to 70, represents a noise 10 times louder.” there are students and community members frequently within less than 50 feet of levels such as these, which can be damaging to hearing. The World Health Organization recommends general daytime outdoor noise levels of 55 dBA or less. Creating a loud and potentially dangerous environment such as this seems to contradict the mission of Facilities Management, ” Facilities Management is committed to providing the Pacific Lutheran University community with an environment that is pleasant, comfortable, safe, and which meets the needs of the university.”( PLU Facilities management Mission ) .
Also, PLU believes that care for the environment is very important, as their mission statement describes “PLU seeks to educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care—for other people, for their communities, and for the earth”. Leaf blowers only blow irritants such as pollen and debris into the air, as well as emit harmful gasses. In a lab test by Edmunds.com, and the use of emissions equipment, a ford truck was cleaner than a leaf blower in its emissions. More information and a short video can be found here, http://www.edmunds.com/car-reviews/features/emissions-test-car-vs-truck-vs-leaf-blower.html
The 2011 GHG Inventory Report, found here, http://www.plu.edu/sustainability/widgets/documents-forms/items/co2-inventory.pdf
outlines the emissions of the university. The largest category is stationary combustion, or the burning of fuel on campus. This includes the equipment such as lawn mowers, weed whackers, and leaf blowers. The document also states that PLU hopes to achieve “38% reduction in total scopes 1, 2, & 3 emissions by 2016”. Starting by amending the use of such gas-powered machinery would be a great way to work on lowering these emissions
Even though gas leaf blowers are the norm for landscape management, it doesn’t make them good for the environment or for the student and community of PLU. I am not saying that leaf blowers should be eliminated from campus at once, or that everyone has a raging problem with them. However, I do believe that they go against both the mission of facilities management and PLU, and that no one particularly likes their obnoxious sound or fumes. I know that the road to environmental consciousness is a hard one, but it seems that there are plenty of cost effective and cleaner solutions to the gas blower, such as the broom, or even an electric blower.
I hope that you consider alternatives to the leaf blower on campus, and that other communities can look to PLU as an example of outstanding effort to live harmoniously with the Mother Nature. Thank you for taking time to listen to a concerned student,
And the response:
Mr. Radford, Good Day:
Thank you for well-considered email on the use of gas powered equipment on campus. Many of your points are well founded and the Grounds Staff would appreciate another method to meet University expectations of how the grounds should look. Unshackling ourselves from noisy and odiferous machines would make work much more enjoyable.
The needs & expectations of the University appear to rate neatness and safety above periodic noise levels above 80 db. The finances of the University preclude the hiring of enough people to wield brooms or enough battery powered leaf blowers to match the productivity of one person on a gas blower.
The PLU 2011 GHG Inventory Report that you cite is an important reference for inspiring a cultural shift toward sustainability at PLU. I think you will find that on closer inspection the On-Campus Stationary sector does not include mobile combustion from lawn mowers, weed whackers & leaf blowers. Direct Transportation includes all of the above, plus other fleet use of vehicles for facilities, dining, campus safety and academic & administrative use. Direct Transportation figures include the use of the gasoline that we dispense at Facilities. That portion is 1% of 2011 Net Emissions compared to the 43% that On-Campus Stationary produces. Totally eliminating the use of gas powered grounds equipment would reduce PLU emissions by less than 1% according to the figures in the report.
I admit that ‘cleaner’ solutions to removing leaves and debris from walkways exist. I disagree that these methods are as cost effective in purely economic terms. For us it is a time consideration. With 8 full time grounds staff and occasional student help to sweep the walkways, there would not be enough time in the day to attend to all the other duties we are tasked with. If walkways are not cleared then we have issues with appearance and safety. That does not include the massive effort each fall to remove leaves before they become a slip hazard and before they shade out and impact the health of the lawns.
As we continue the cultural shift toward sustainability perhaps the economic stresses will become less important than the environmental & ethical principles that our mission statement espouses.
Again it was a pleasure to read your email. If you would like to further discuss these issues feel free to drop me a line.
Campus Landscape & Athletic Fields Manager
Pacific Lutheran University
So Lutes, what would you add to this dialogue?