Savings from the Grounds Up

  May 19, 2014

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 and 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.

Thanks to a team approach that embraces the ideas and suggestions of many campus departments, adding sustainable landscapes has produced tangible savings for the university in the last decade — most notably, a 10-15 percent reduction in mowing costs and a 20-25 percent reduction in water costs.

The campus offers plenty of space for the design team to work. At 5,300 acres, the university is the largest campus in the University of California system. Only about 150 acres of the campus is devoted to turf, and about 50 of those acres are used for athletic programs. Sustainable landscapes that incorporate campus-generated mulch from tree and shrub pruning, along with native Northern California plants, have replaced other turf areas.

Adding sustainable landscapes has produced savings related to mowing, irrigation and energy. For example, over the last decade, the university has realized savings of 10-15 percent in mowing costs.

"We used to mow twice a week," Avery says. "Now, we mow once a week, and we'll go back and sweep where we need to sweep when there's excess build-up. We've reduced some workload in terms of mowing but at the same time increased (it) in terms of weeding and manual labor with the landscapes."

One of the university's current projects involves converting a mile-long median of a campus road from turf, which required regular maintenance, into a sustainable landscape that features drought-tolerant plants. Avery says the university expects maintenance costs for that area to drop by 40-50 percent, or $40,000-$50,000 a year.


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