ESF establishes no-mow zones on campus to increase sustainability

Micah Benson | Art Director

SUNY-ESF will create no-mow zones on campus in order to help the college increase sustainability and reduce carbon emissions.

These no-mow zones consist of designated areas where the grass is not cut and meadows are instead allowed to grow, said Timothy Toland, associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“We are seeking ways to eliminate sources of carbon emissions and implement more environmentally friendly practices on campus,” Toland said.

Most students going to class, though, will not notice the difference, as the no-mow zones are located along the steep slopes on the southern property line of Main Campus adjacent to Oakwood Cemetery, he said.

The no-mow zones are part of the Sustaining the Green Campus Master Plan, which reviews how the school is run and what could be done to make campus more sustainable as it grows physically and the university expands its student body, he said.

The switch was made because turf grass maintenance relies on gas-powered motors and is an energy-intensive process. The process is considered to be non-sustainable because of its heavy reliance on fossil fuels and the carbon emissions from their operation, Toland said.

Additionally, it is very time consuming for the Physical Plant and Facilities staff, which have a number of other tasks to attend to around campus.

ESF wanted to make the jobs of the Physical Plant and Facilities employees safer and easier. The no-mow zones are on steep slopes, making the job both difficult and dangerous for the employees.

“The college had already established policies that eliminated the use of chemicals for lawn care,” Toland said. “Eliminating turf grass in non-recreational areas was the next logical step.”

Areas like the ESF Quad, which is heavily recreational, will keep the turf grass, but areas without intensive use will cease to use it.

There have been two different approaches to revitalizing the landscape, Toland said.

“One was the establishment of a meadow behind John and Baker Labs using a northern wildflower meadow mix. The other approach was to simply stop mowing a hillside behind Bray and Marshall halls,” he said.

The benefits of no-mow zones are tremendous in the eyes of Toland, who said ESF will get the desired results of lowering carbon emissions as it tries to meet its goal of carbon neutrality.

“We will accrue financial benefits in that we will have lower fuel and oil expenditures, and we will have made the job of our Physical Plant staff safer and easier,” Toland said.

Toland said those worried that the unkempt areas might be unsightly are accustomed to societal expectations of turf grass and trees on college campuses, which is promoted by “traditional” lawn care companies.

“Nature has a beauty to it all its own that if one were to stop and pay attention to they would notice,” Toland said.


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