Savings and Sustainability: One Department’s Strategy

  October 9, 2015

When the University of California-Davis started converting turf areas into sustainable landscapes, the process did more than influence current and prospective students attracted to the campus because of its appearance. It charted a course for the university to become one of the most sustainable campuses in the nation.

Over the last decade, the university has transformed about 600 acres of turf to sustainable landscapes. Planting more than 12,000 trees, as well as 200 acres of shrubbery and other native plants, has helped the university significantly reduce mowing time for grounds crews. It has saved thousands of gallons of water by reducing irrigation needs, and it has turned turf areas that were costly to maintain into drought-tolerant landscapes that students, staff and visitors can enjoy.

The aggressive tree-planting program also has generated significant energy savings. A recent study determined the campus saves $65,000 annually in energy costs and $58,000 related to erosion and pollution control, Avery says. The additional shade created by the large number of trees has resulted $430,000 a year in energy savings. But such savings do not show up on the bottom line overnight, Avery says.

"We've lowered maintenance costs, but when you do landscape conversions to more sustainable landscapes, the return on investment is usually two to five years," says Cary Avery, the university’s associate director of grounds and landscape maintenance. "You don't get an immediate return because the workload increases the first one to two years. There's more manual labor. You've gone from a more mechanized maintenance program to more manual labor."

The university also has realized savings of 20-25 percent on its water bills because of reduced irrigation in the last decade. Much of the credit for these savings goes to an aggressive maintenance plan, experimentation with new technology and a centralized irrigation system.

"We're starting to use a lot more subterranean irrigation technology," Avery says. "These are things we think are the future. We're strong advocates of utilizing new technology when it works for us."

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