March 17, 2021

Town and School System Unite To Change Landscaping Practices

By Anne Levin

A $10,000 grant to the municipality of Princeton, in partnership with Princeton Public Schools, is geared toward developing a financially viable plan to transition away from the practice of landscaping with fossil-fueled equipment to reduce pollution and create a healthier work environment for landscape staff.

The grant allows grounds management workers to become familiar with battery-powered landscaping equipment, in turn creating more sustainable practices. It comes from Sustainable Jersey, via the Gardinier Environmental Fund.

The funding is designed to work in tandem with the $55,000 Partners for Places grant, which was awarded to Princeton last November to transition local landscapers to more sustainable management practices.

Switching to more sustainable methods is a process with a variety of components, and takes time. “It’s like cars,” said Molly Jones, executive director of Sustainable Princeton. “We’re all used to fossil-fueled vehicles. Electric is a different experience that just takes time to get used to. We’re trying, with this grant, to open the mindset.”

Battery-powered leaf blowers are typically not as powerful as those powered by fossil fuels. “We’re trying to find out how to use this equipment correctly,” Jones said. “And you can always grind or mow leaves back into the property, which is a better approach. So there are a few things going on — changing to more sustainable landscaping processes, and looking at the equipment to do it. Neither of these things is easy.”

Students involved in the project will analyze equipment and usage data related to the impact of emissions affected by switching from fossil fuel to battery
powered equipment. “We are looking forward to partnering with the municipality on this project and to providing our students with the opportunity to study a real-world challenge,” said Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso in a press release.

Added Councilwoman Eve Niedergang, who serves on the Princeton Environmental Commission, “If we are going to ask Princeton’s residents and businesses to change their approach to landscaping, the municipality must lead by example. This is an opportunity to embrace practices that are healthier for workers and the environment.”

Jones said a workshop for the municipal and public school team will likely take place during the upcoming summer.

“What we’re looking for is taking the data surrounding the reality of this situation, what equipment is being used, and what emissions are, and having students help figure out a path that is viable,” she said.