At Meadowvale North Business Park (MNBP), a 170-acre commercial property in Mississauga, Ontario, contractors are cutting grass with bright green electric carts that were charged overnight at a nearby landscaping facility.
With other electric gardening equipment in tow, the maintenance team from International Landscaping in Milton has been working on the property since April in what is Canada’s largest all-electric commercial landscaping project of this scale.
While electric-powered equipment has been around for some time now, and other landscaping companies use this technology, it hasn’t picked up 100 per cent in the landscaping industry, where the vast majority of companies still rely on gas-powered equipment.
From reducing greenhouse gas emissions and airborne particle matter to mitigating noise pollution, the equipment has myriad benefits that support not only communities and wildlife, but also workers who operate the tools. Facility managers can also earn LEED points since reducing the use of power equipment is listed under the credit related to landscape management.
The project came about when Bentall Kennedy, development and property manager for MNBP, went looking to employ an all-electric landscape maintenance program to further reduce the environmental impact of the property.
Baldo Gucciardi, co-founder and chief executive officer of International Landscaping, says after working with Bentall Kennedy for many years, the company had the chance to bid for the portfolio a second time. They offered a price-competitive quote that fit the real estate company’s budget, but what also sealed the deal was the risk they took.
When the contact was being tendered, the company’s Environmental Sustainability Manager Michael Anthony Gucciardi and Landscape Maintenance Account Manager Chris Clarke decided to become industry pioneers and use their U. S. connections to further invest in all electric equipment for large scale commercial use.
“The biggest fear was is the equipment going to work and be efficient and will the batteries last,” adds Gucciardi. “We handed in our quote and they were interested; we won the tender and then modified the trailers that hold the equipment. We’re now the only landscape company who runs fully on electric maintenance equipment and we have a fantastic Fortune 500 portfolio of companies who want us to quote on the electrical side on things.”
The mowers are primarily charged overnight, while solar panels fastened on top provide supplementary power. Batteries charge the other gardening equipment and are removed and re-charged as needed, with solar energy and electricity from the grid. The cost savings are another bonus, with no need for spark plugs, hoses, hydraulic oil or fuel.
From a management perspective, Nada Sutic, general manager for Bentall Kennedy, says until they partnered with the landscaping company, it was a “chicken and egg” type situation. For landscapers, investing in the equipment without a customer is a tough decision to make, and managers might not think to inquire or it might be harder to find a contractor to step up. But this first large scale use might point the way.
“We are now able to show other management companies that there is a market for this kind of equipment; that it is doable and there are benefits,” says Sutic, who adds that noise reduction is another plus.
“When a worker drives by with an electric mower, it’s way quieter now,” she says. “Tenants really appreciate the environmental consciousness that is going into decision-making, but they have also noticed the noise element.”
Gas is three times louder, which also makes for less flexible work schedules.
“In the past, when we had an appointment with Bentall, they gave us a schedule of their board meetings with CEO’s, and we just couldn’t be there because of the noise,” says Gucciardi. “Now [the equipment] allows us to be more flexible on scheduling. Even in the summer months with facilities that have outside patios, fitness centres and swimming pools, we can run the equipment and there is no noise and no fumes.”
As for wellbeing and safety, training workers to operate the tools is the same as it would be on regular gas equipment, but they still need to be wary of blades that can be as dangerous. However, less gas fumes and less noise are a healthy alternative.
Sutic adds that knowing Bentall Kennedy is impacting the health and wellbeing of a company’s employees who come to the site every day is “a win all around.”
“It’s not a direct benefit we see right away, but it’s something we want to be conscious of —our contractors are not just the people who come to site and do certain things; they’re partners,” she says. “We can’t run our properties and do our jobs to deliver the service that we need for our tenants without these people—where we can make a request for something like this and have a partner who is willing to step up and make a big investment in this equipment.”
Top photo:Team gathers around a solar powered riding lawnmower at the project launch on June 22. Left to right: Carl Lam (Bentall Kennedy) Nada Sutic (Bentall Kennedy) Corrine Dorazio (Bentall Kennedy) Bob Delaney (MPP) Tony DiGiovanni (Landscape Ontario) Baldo Gucciardi (International Landscaping).
Rebecca Melnyk is online editor of Facility Cleaning & Maintenance and Canadian Property Management @rebeccachirp