Background

For much of the year, commercial landscaping companies provide a variety of lawn and plant care services to residents and commercial businesses. While these services are an important part of the local economy, they are also a source of routine concern among community members.

Certain types of landscaping equipment present a variety of environmental and health concerns. These include greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, noise and air pollution.

Two-stroke engines, such as those commonly found in leaf blowers, are the most cited area of concern. These small, fossil fuel-powered engines release higher amounts of toxic chemicals and dust into the air, contributing to severe respiratory conditions and other health issues. They are also a source of GHG emissions that must be reduced to achieve the community’s climate goals.

Lawn mower and leaf blower equivalents to driving distance

Operating a commercial lawn mower for one hour emits as much pollution as driving a new light-duty passenger car from Los Angeles to Las Vegas – a trip that takes more than four hours. One hour of operating a commercial leaf blower emits pollution comparable to driving a new light-duty passenger car for 15 hours or the distance from Los Angeles to Denver.

Yard trimmer

"Grass Trimmer" by sacks08 is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Project Overview

The city is in the early stages of exploring strategies to mitigate the impacts of landscaping equipment. These strategies will seek to address community environmental and health concerns, while prioritizing racial equity and economic vitality.

As a first step, the city will work with American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA) to evaluate best practices adopted by other communities and the state of landscaping services within Boulder. The city will then carry out robust community engagement to inform a set of voluntary and regulatory strategies that would be presented to City Council.

This process will align with the city’s Racial Equity Plan, and will work to identify and address the disproportionate impacts of potential equipment restrictions and/or incentive-based strategies on Boulder residents, businesses, service providers and their workforce.

Strategies could include, but are not limited to:

  • A full or partial ban of equipment by type or fuel type.

  • Incentive programs that offset the cost of equipment transition.

  • Gradual policy implementation that aligns with equipment replacement cycles.

Community Engagement

City staff and consultants will offer multiple opportunities for community feedback. While specific details are still being developed, staff anticipate this will include online engagement on Be Heard Boulder, community outreach events and individual interviews.

Next Steps

A project timeline is outlined below.

Business and community assessments: evaluate the current state of landscaping services within the city to better identify the number and types of businesses serving the Boulder community.

  • Complete best practices review: analyze ordinances and programs adopted by other municipalities to identify potential strategies that would be appropriate for Boulder to consider.
  • Develop strategy recommendations: develop a set of strategy options based on the findings of best practices, community and business assessments. These will include both voluntary and regulatory approaches.
  • Begin analysis of potential impacts: use the city’s Racial Equity Plan to consider the positive and negative impacts of each strategy, focusing on noise and emissions, health and air quality, and individuals using equipment for their livelihood.
  • First series of workshops and vendor expos: host a series of in-person workshops and vendor expos, in-person and virtual, to connect with local landscaping service providers and familiarize them with low environmental impact alternatives.

  • City Council Study Session: review progress and results of analysis, and get feedback on the strategy(ies) council wishes to pursue. Based on that feedback, staff will return to council with any proposed changes to ordinance and/or budget requests.
  • Complete program design.
  • Make ordinance changes if needed.

  • Host second series of workshops and vendor expos.
  • Launch incentive programs, as applicable.