With corporations moving toward sustainability, landscape contractors are taking steps toward electric equipment to promote sustainability and better serve their clients.
Canada-based International Landscaping transitioned to a fully electric maintenance fleet a few years ago, with an official launch in 2016. The company maintains about 500 acres a week for corporate clients. All maintenance performed by their technicians is done with electric equipment, including mowers, trimmers and blowers.
“We had a few pieces of electric equipment but we weren’t running on complete electricity,” says Michael-Anthony Gucciardi, environmental sustainability manager at International Landscaping.
A client suggestion got the company to consider electric equipment. After making a few contacts in the United States, International Landscaping began the transition. Their electric equipment has doubled since the launch.
Double the benefit.
Gucciardi says their customers see International Landscaping as a marketing opportunity for themselves. “There are a lot of important people (that are potential customers) that are buying into this sustainability idea,” he says. “They have promises (to their own customers), and they want to display themselves as sustainable. If they hire us because of our electric maintenance equipment, they can say they even hire sustainable companies.”
Electric equipment is notably quieter than gas-powered equipment. In conservation areas, Gucciardi says they don’t have to worry about how the noise is affecting the surrounding wildlife. “I remember a customer telling me he would always know what day and time he couldn’t take a call or have a meeting due to the loud maintenance outside,” Gucciardi says. “But once we switched to electric, there was no more inconvenience.”
For the operators, no gasoline means no more smelly fumes or harsh chemicals transferring to their skin. “When I was doing maintenance, I just remember going to eat my sandwich and the only thing I could smell was gasoline,” he says.
When International Landscaping decided to commit to an electric fleet, they knew the whole team had to be on board.
“Half the company is running on electrical equipment, so if we're not all on the same page then there will be problems,” Gucciardi says. “It’s good that we have a strong team behind us and that we are all on board. That’s the key to the success of this.”
Marketing your company as having an electric fleet means fully committing to the use of that equipment. For International Landscaping, it’s in their maintenance contracts. “If we show up to a job with a gas mower, there’s going to be some issues,” he says.
When considering a transition to an electric fleet, Gucciardi says businesses should look at feasibility. “There aren’t a lot of supplier options out there,” he says. “So, you want to make sure it’s actually doable for your company.”
International Landscaping’s employees had to be trained on the new equipment and learn to consider charge times and special features like built-in solar panels. With electric equipment, you have to be aware of where you’re using it, how long you’re using it and even how you put it back in the trailer.
Other differences in handling this equipment include how it is serviced. The technology is more delicate than gas-powered equipment, so a quick power wash to clean it may damage the mower.
“If you’re operating a mower and it has a solar panel on top, you want to be aware if there are trees around you,” he says. “And when you put the equipment back, it has to be level.”
The staff also had to spend time learning each piece of equipment in order to understand how much operating time they would get with a full charge.
Environmental conditions like a larger area of thick turf can factor into operating time. “It really forced us to all jump in,” he says.
The team at International Landscaping had to rework some of their operating procedures to accommodate the electric fleets.
“When you’re out on the job, you can’t just put some gasoline in the machine if it stops working,” Gucciardi says. “And, you can’t just grab a gas-powered mower to finish it up.”
Operators had to ensure they were putting equipment on chargers at the end of the day so morning crews were ready to work.
Gucciardi says they installed solar panels on some of the trailers, which allows for on-site charging when equipment power runs low.
The electric maintenance division had two crews the first year and recently added a third to carry out maintenance for their electric clients. Since the new fleet took off two years ago, the company has had to work out some of the growing pains. They are watching the data to develop an expected ROI, but Gucciardi says it’s important to be open to adapting.
“It’s not just switching equipment,” he says. “It’s ensuring you fulfill a promise, and it really adds to your pride as a company.”