Grabs the Mic
AGZA is fortunate to have drawn the attention of veteran radio and TV journalists with an eye and ear for compelling environmental news. The time is ripe to tell the story of how AGZA is pushing gas out of the lawn care industry — in your neighborhood and around the globe.
Nancy Pearlman interviews AGZA for Environmental Directions Radio
June 26, 2015
AGZA Founder Dan Mabe and Creative Director Luke Massman-Johnson were honored by an interview with award-winning veteran environmental journalist Nancy Pearlman for an episode of Environmental Directions Radio, the number one and longest running international environmental program of its kind.
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT & TIMELINE
- :07 INTRO: Educational Communications (website) and this station present Environmental Directions (website) with Nancy Pearlman (website). On this series we explore the effects of human influence on the Earth’s ecosystems, and discuss solutions to environmental problems which affect the quality of life of this planet. Environmental Directions give you the kind of information you need to help you participate in decisions impacting your community, the nation, and the world. Now, here’s your host, Nancy Pearlman.
- :36 NP (NANCY PEARLMAN): Hello. With me are Dan Mabe (contact), Founder of the American Green Zone Alliance, and Luke Massman-Johnson (contact), who’s the Creative Director for AGZA (website), which is the American Green Zone Alliance. Welcome, it’s a pleasure to have you with us.
- :53 LMJ (LUKE MASSMAN-JOHNSON): Thanks for giving us the microphone.
- :54 DM (DAN MABE): Yeah, thank you.
- :55 NP: Your company is really trying to promote, especially in the United States, as well as the world, zero-emission landscape maintenance. This basically means that you want our green spaces — yards, parks, campuses, commercial grounds, municipalities — to be maintained without the gas-guzzling lawn mowers and blowers and all the other equipment that is so polluting. Is this going to be possible, Dan?
- 1:25 DM: Nancy, yes, actually it is possible. I’m going to give you a specific example: in the City of South Pasadena there’s a ten-acre park, Garfield Park, and we were able to implement the commercial electric equipment, train the workers, and then get the city behind it to create the nation’s first Municipal Green Zone™ (click here for the full story). There are over four acres of turf to be mowed, and the workers are there for six-and-a-half to seven hours twice a week, and it’s being done with all-electric equipment.
- 2:00 NP: This is in California. Is this going to be able to be implemented across the country? Luke?
- 2:06 LMJ: Yes. The advances in battery technology, lithium battery technology, have enabled manufacturers, the top name brands that you’d know from all of the lawn maintenance equipment, to manufacture entire suites of battery cordless equipment, from lawn mowers to hedge trimmers and string trimmers, and even snow blowers are now coming online for the midwest in the winter.
- 2:26 NP: Your group is trying to educate people to the need for the change, and I’m looking at some of the statistics that you provide (full story). Of course we know that gas has a lot of problems with emissions — carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter (full story) — that there are over 1.2 Billion gallons of gas burned in lawn and garden equipment every year in the United States (full story). That’s a lot! And of course there’s extra trash involved with the gas cans and the filters, the spark plugs, the belts — we forget about the solid waste issue (full story), not to mention the toxic waste issue that gasoline provides, especially the chemical soaked rags (full story) and then the noise pollution (full story). A lot of people in their homes really hate to hear that noise that is created by the gardeners. And of course the health with the exhaust and so forth, and that’s a major problem (full story). If gas is so awful, is the solution really any better? What is the solution? You’re showing me, Dan, this commercial cordless-electric leaf blower. How does it work? Because electric means that there still has to be electricity generated.
- 3:37 DM: That’s correct. As far as the technical terms, how does it work, we have basically paralleled the electric car industry in terms of technology. Battery management systems, battery chemistries, controllers, brushless motors — that has allowed the equipment to advance to the commercial level. As far as the impacts, yes, there is kilowatt hours being produced and some of that is coal driven. However when you compare that to an actual operation of gas it’s substantially lower impact for the environment.
- 4:10 NP: This piece of equipment, this lawn blower, looks very upscale high-technology. Is it expensive for people to make the change?
- 4:19 LMJ: It’s a good question. The short answer is that the equipment is high tech and it’s very cutting edge, from the battery chemistry to the industrial design. But what’s interesting and not always on everyone’s radar is the long term costs of electric equipment are much lower than gas. And the short answer, the reason behind that, is because with gas you’re obviously always paying to fill it, to lube it, to maintain it, to clean it, to replace spark plugs and belts, and all of those things become cumulative and increase over time, whereas the initial investment in electric may be slightly higher, the return on investment is now, it depends on equipment, but in a few years you’ve paid your equipment off and don’t have these ongoing costs that add up.
- 5:01 DM: We have actually, industry insiders from the gas companies, the manufacturers who have acknowledged that the electric equipment requires one twentieth of the maintenance of the gas. And they’ve actually put a hold and tried to kind of stifle the implementation of this equipment because it’s going to impact their aftermarket service which requires more parts, more belts, more lubrications and spark plugs and such. So definitely, the ROI, the return on investment, is there for the electric, and the economic feasibility with the environmental benefits cannot be denied at this point.
- 5:41 NP: Making equipment changes is costly. The average gardener here in Southern California are small independent operators, they have to buy their own equipment. They’re not necessarily working on a high profit margin. So is the change going to have to occur in the large facilities, in the schools, in the government buildings and large commercial operations?
- 6:08 DM: I think that’s a great point — very intuitive. I think that is a great starting point for the implementation of this equipment. However, I go out in neighborhoods and randomly let the gardeners use the equipment. And AGZA is currently lobbying the air districts, the federal government, and the state governments to help mitigate some of the up-front costs so these gardeners can start to use this cleaner equipment. And that’s an environmental justice component that we bring to the table.
- 6:38 NP: You are also certifying what you’re calling Green Zones™. What does that entail, to be certified?
- 6:46 DM: Basically we start out with a Green Zone Certification specialist (full story). And they have to take a test, we empower them to go out and create these Green Zones. The steps are: observation, and then implementation of the equipment, safety and maintenance training, and then they have to demonstrate that they’re doing the area without gas, only electric, and then they do periodic reporting to make sure that there’s integrity for these Green Zones. And like I said the schools and the cities that we’ve partnered with to create these Green Zones, the Sustainability Directors and some liaisons from these organizations are there to maintain the integrity of the Green Zone (full story).
- 7:34 NP: When I hear the concept ‘green zone' I’m thinking total green, sustainable, ecological. It’s not just what equipment is used to maintain it, but that the landscaped areas should have native planting, should not be using toxic chemicals. So is this incorporated in the certification?
- 7:55 LMJ: Yes actually, a holistic approach is what AGZA’s focus is. It’s going to start, as you pointed out yourself, at a residential scale and have to go all the way up comprehensively to professional landscape maintenance at municipalities, public parks, college campuses. We touch on those: we’re not training landscape designers what plants to plant, but we take a holistic approach to sustainability in general, which means in Southern California of course, drought-resistant native species, low water. Our focus is driven on the equipment and getting carbon emissions and air pollutants out of the industry. But we have the training program and a certification process that encompasses the broader holistic approach which touches on those issues as well.
- 8:39 DM: I’m going to give you and example: Evergreene, they’re a commercial company (full story), they just Green Zoned™ the Torrence American Baseball Fields (full story). Not only are they zero-emission, but they’re using organic fertilizing alternatives because the kids are there playing on the turf. So definitely, we do advocate the organic herbicides, the pesticides, the fertilizers, all of the native planting. We really, our primary focus is getting the gas and emissions out of the industry because, frankly, no one else has really, actually shed light on that and been able to recognize that that is definitely a detriment to our communities and the environment. So yes, we do take the holistic approach.
- 9:21 NP: You’re just showing me one model of an electric leaf blower. You didn’t want to bring the lawn mower into your house, their hedge trimmers and other kinds of equipment that’s utilized by maintenance workers. But how many companies are creating these? How do we know if we’re going to go out as a consumer, or if we’re a facility manager, to go buy a new non-gas operated piece of equipment, that we’re buying the right one? How many companies are creating them?
- 9:53 DM: There are only a handful of companies, but they’re high quality companies (full story) and that’s another thing that AGZA does. We actually purchase the equipment and then we do third-party testing, putting hundreds of hours on each piece of equipment, and then we will tell these facility managers which manufacturer rates the highest, and which we feel will be the best, most suitable options for the Green Zones that they want to create.
- 10:20 NP: Obviously the companies creating this technology that you’re promoting are supportive of your efforts. I would assume that the companies creating the gas-powered equipment don’t like what you’re doing. So who in the industry is really ready to make the change?
- 10:39 LMJ: It’s an interesting dilemma, and you’re right: companies that have historically manufactured gas equipment are going to be hesitant to make this change. AGZA sees this entire evolution within the industry, in fact within our energy sector and all other aspects of modern life, are going to need to get off gas eventually. AGZA sees it as an inevitability that this happens. We’re focused on the lawn and garden industry and we’re helping to usher it along. But to answer your question there are some companies that are relatively new to the scene in the last two and five years who are dedicated exclusively to creating equipment, entire suites of equipment we already talked about, that are just battery-based, lithium based equipment — they never manufactured gas in the first place. Those people are obviously charging ahead, we ally closely with them, we partner with them and test their equipment and give them feedback that improves the performance of their equipment in the next round. And we also partner with gas equipment manufacturers, people who have expertise and longevity and brand recognition in the industry. You will see this year, last year, and certainly in years to come these companies are making a huge push to see whether residents and commercial scale operators are ready to take the next step. So they’re creating whole suites, Black and Decker, EGO, Greenstation of course, GreenWorks, Stihl, many manufacturers (full story). These are recognized name brands that are finding out whether or not consumers are ready for this, and commercial operators.
- 12:03 NP: How serious a problem is this? How big is this going to be in making a change? I’m looking at some of the charts you’ve provided, and some diagrams that the gas-power equipment, the pollution that we mentioned is extensive, the waste, the air, the impact on health (full story), the benefits of having an alternative, certainly valuable. But where does it fit into the scheme of things? Or is it that we have to constantly look at every little piece of how we’re living and make a change that’s greener, from recycling to water and energy conservation techniques, and that this is just one more step? What is the overall impact? Where does it fit? Because I’m looking at the statistic and it does sound pretty bad when you talk about 17 million gallons of gas spills into our soil and groundwater simply because of this kind of equipment (full story). 400 million oil bottles containing 3 million gallons of residential oil ending up in California landfills alone every year (full story). I mean, it goes on and on that we really should eliminate this.
- 13:18 DM: Yeah, that’s a great point. I really wanna tell you, Nancy, I think it’s a piece of the puzzle with all of the other things you mentioned. But what’s interesting is this frankly has been overlooked, and we are trying to shed light and bring it to the table as well. It hasn’t been widely adopted by a lot of the green organizations, but it’s slowly, now that we’ve come out with our credible numbers, with our sources, definitely it’s part of the educational process and maybe people will take a second, third look at it and go in the right direction.
- 13:51 NP: Indeed. We all know that cars have been major pollutants. I don’t think most of us know that one hour of mowing with gas creates as much smog-forming pollution as driving a car between 200 and 640 miles!
- 14:07 LMJ: It’s true. The statistics, once you begin to look at these numbers, are fairly staggering, and most of us don’t recognize on a daily basis just how polluting these are. But it’s interesting to be here in Southern California because of course Los Angeles in particular has a long history, a notorious history of being some of the worst air pollution in the country, going back to the 40’s and 50’s even, before the Clean Air Act. One of the things that showed up on my radar when I started to peel the layers of the onion back on this industry is that we did an enormous amount of work — the government, environmentalists, scientist — between the 40’s all the way up to the 70’s and 80’s to establish really rigorous specifications for the emissions that can come from factories, from coal plants, and from automobiles. We all knew that it needed to happen. It was an insufferable environment here then. And lawn mowers were exempt, small non-road gas equipment was exempt from those regulations. To this day they’re not regulated anywhere near as stringently. Their are no catalytic converters, and there are lots of cost-benefit arguments and industry pressures that prevented them from being regulated in the same way. But the simple answer is: just eliminate gas and all of the emissions in these charts, all of the metrics change completely.
- 15:23 NP: I certainly wish you well in your efforts to create that cleaner, quieter, sustainable land care based on this cutting edge zero-emission battery-electric equipment. That is your goal. You want to see environmentally friendly practices for the health of workers, citizens, the community, the planet. Please keep up the good work. Thank you very much for being my guests.
- 15:48 LMJ: Thanks for letting us tell our story.
- 15:49 DM: Thank you, thank you Nancy.
- 15:50 NP: I have been speaking with Dan Mabe who is founder of the American Green Zone Alliance, and with Luke Massman-Johnson who is the Creative Director for AGZA, the American Green Zone Alliance. We’ll be back in a moment with more ecological issues.
- 16:07 OUTRO: Environmental Directions with Nancy Pearlman continues with further discussion of the world’s critical ecological issues. For more information you may call (310) 559-9160 or go to www.ecoprojects.org (website).
ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DIRECTIONS
Environmental Directions Radio Series is the number one and longest running international environmental program of its kind. Inaugurated in 1977, these half-hour interview shows have aired weekly on public (NPR and APR), commercial, listener-sponsored, and college-sponsored stations, as well as on the Internet. Shows are taped on location throughout the world or at facilities in the Los Angeles area.
The series received the "Best of the West" Special Merit Award from the Western Educational Society for Telecommunications.
Ms. Pearlman is an award-winning broadcaster, journalist, environmentalist, college instructor, anthropologist, editor, producer, on-air personality, and outdoorswoman who has made safeguarding the earth’s ecosystems both a vocation and an avocation. For forty-six years, she has given her time and energy to the environmental cause. She was selected by the United Nations Environment Programme as a Global 500 Laureate and has received many other honors.
Since the 1970s when Ms. Pearlman coordinated the first Earth Day in Southern California, she has worked with and continues to be involved with hundreds of conservation organizations. She founded the Ecology Center of Southern California in 1972, Project Ecotourism in 1993, Earth Cultures in 2004, Humanity and the Planet in 2001, and “Nancy Pearlman, the Eco-Traveler” in 2007.