Columnist Johanna Neumann: Switching to electric for lawn care a power move

Johanna Neumann

Johanna Neumann FILE PHOTO


Published: 11-15-2023 4:03 PM

This summer, our family’s gasoline-powered lawn mower, which had come with the house when we bought it 12 years ago, finally bit the dust. After taking it into Boyden & Perron as well as our neighborhood small-engine repair guy, it became clear it was time to replace it.

We decided that to protect our family and neighbors from the noise and pollution that comes from gas-powered equipment, our next lawn mower would be electric. With rebates coming our way, we bought our first electric mower.

A few things surprised me when we took the mower on its first tour around the yard. The first was ease of use. The simple push of a button replaces the arm-wrenching act of pulling a rip cord. The mellow whirr of an electric engine replaces the deafening roar of a motor. Instead of nervously pouring fuel from a gas can into the tank, inevitably spilling some, we click the battery in and out of a charger.

The machine is quiet, light and easy enough to operate that our 10-year-old, who has asthma, is now part of our family lawn-mowing team. While the new machine doesn’t have quite as much raw power as the fossil fuel-powered mower it replaced, it does the job just fine, with a lot less noise and, more importantly, a lot less health-harming and planet-warming pollution.

Gas-powered lawn and garden equipment creates a surprisingly large amount of carbon emissions. Switching to electric devices is another way we can help tackle the climate crisis.

How bad is gas-powered lawn equipment for our health? The gasoline engines in many leaf blowers, snow blowers and lawn mowers emit far more health-threatening pollution than typical cars.

According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in Massachusetts in 2020, fossil fuel-powered lawn equipment emitted:

■More than 500 tons of fine particulates, pollutants that have been linked to respiratory ailments, reproductive and mental health issues, and even premature death. Lawn care equipment in Massachusetts released as much fine particulate pollution as more than five million typical cars annually.

■More than 1,500 tons of nitrogen oxides, which trigger asthma attacks and contribute to premature death. Annual nitrogen oxide emissions from lawn equipment in Massachusetts equal those from nearly 700,000 typical cars.

■A wide array of cancer-causing chemicals, including benzene and formaldehyde.

Why is electric lawn equipment a better choice?

Electric lawn equipment is cleaner, quieter and, over its lifetime, often cheaper. It emits fewer chemicals and vibrates less, making it healthier and safer to use.

While electric lawn equipment sometimes has a higher initial price tag, mostly due to the cost of a battery, it often saves money over time due to lower fuel and maintenance costs.

Moreover, electric options are often as capable as fossil fuel versions. Today, more and more commercial lawn care businesses are tapping the increasing array of electric equipment options.

At a recent briefing for state lawmakers, Kelly Giard, the CEO of Clean Air Lawn Care, which has a franchise in Northampton, said, “These days, battery-powered tools have plenty of power to get the job done, and our costs are less over a five-year period than if we were using gas. I hope others will join us in using equipment that is cleaner and quieter.”

Other local options for all-electric lawn care services include Electrocut Lawn Care and EcoValley Lawn Care.

Tips for how households, cities and states can support the shift to electric lawn equipment:

■Lead by example by adopting electric lawn equipment for their facilities.

■Create financial incentives to encourage the purchase of electric lawn equipment. The Mass Save program already incentivizes electric lawn and garden equipment. Our family was pleased to get a $75 rebate on our electric lawn mower. Rebates apply for electric string trimmers, chainsaws and leaf blowers too.

■Provide opportunities for education, training and technical support, to meet the needs of commercial landscapers.

■Consider policies that phase out sales of gasoline-powered lawn equipment and/or restrict use of the noisiest and most polluting equipment under certain circumstances.

To clean up our air and protect our health, it’s important to transition away from dirty gas-powered lawn and garden equipment as quickly as possible. As I learned firsthand, going electric is good for your family, your neighborhood and your planet.

Johanna Neumann of Amherst has spent the past two decades working to protect our air, water and open spaces, defend consumers in the marketplace and advance a more sustainable economy and democratic society. She can be reached at