City of Columbus Case Study City of Columbus Case Study
Recreation and Parks Department — Columbus, Ohio
Environmental Protection Agency emissions-reduction regulations have prompted municipalities and governments to adopt sustainable practices and reduce their carbon footprints. Columbus, Ohio is one city taking the green movement seriously. With a citywide green initiative in place, Columbus has adopted many sustainable practices including the use of alternative fuels, a bike-share program, and LEED-certified new construction. The recreation and parks department has also taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.
CHALLENGE & SOLUTION
Columbus, Ohio recognized the need to implement new, emission-reducing technology to meet tightening EPA regulations. After considering several options, the city adopted 14 propane-powered Exmark zero-turn mowers as a part of their Green Fleet Action Plan.
- Propane-powered mowers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent and carbon monoxide emissions by more than 40 percent compared with gasoline-fueled mowers.
- Columbus saves 50 cents per gallon on fuel costs with propane compared with gasoline.
- Propane reduces unpleasant gasoline fumes making the park visitors’ experience more enjoyable.
“We researched many green alternatives, and propane came out as the easiest and most affordable option to put into practice.”
Craig Seeds, the city’s parks and forestry administrator, says his department conducted in-depth research and considered a few options before deciding to adopt propane-powered mowers. Propane mowers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent and carbon emissions by more than 40 percent compared with gasoline.
“When it came to the park maintenance, propane mower technology was innovative and readily available,” Seeds explains. “We researched many green alternatives, and propane came out as the easiest and most affordable option to put into practice.”
REDUCING DEPENDENCE AND EMISSIONS
Columbus proactively sought out ways to reduce harmful emissions by instating a citywide green initiative in 2008. As a part of the initiative, Mayor Michael B. Coleman developed a Green Fleet Action Plan calling for the city to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, increase fuel security, and improve operator safety across on- and off-road fleets. Ultimately, the city hopes to become one of the greenest cities in America.
“Our Green Fleet Action Plan sets the standard to which all of our green practices are held,” Bill Burns, fleet operations manager, explains. “We initially sought out propane because it’s a clean fuel predominantly made in the U.S., and it fit into our existing sustainability goals.”
“Adopting propane was a turnkey solution because there isn’t much downtime for refueling.”
Parks and Forestry Administrator
After learning about propane’s clean emissions profile, Seeds and parks employees tested a few propane-powered Exmark Lazer-Z S Series mowers with Kohler’s dedicated EFI engine. Their impressive performance led the city to adopt the fuel and invest in 12 propane-powered mowers for the recreation and parks department and two additional propane-powered mowers for the transportation division.
“The city operates an additional 28 mowers comparable to its Exmark versions on conventional fuels,” says Burns. “But due to the positive results we’ve experienced, we hope to replace them with propane as they reach their eight-year replacement interval.”
SIMPLE REFUELING PROCESS
Propane’s convenient refueling process was another important factor that influenced the city’s decision to adopt the fuel. Smaller propane-powered mower fleets can implement a simple cylinder exchange program that only requires a cage and propane cylinders.
“Adopting propane was a turnkey solution because there isn’t much downtime for refueling,” Seeds explains. “Our propane retailer switches out empty propane cylinders in our cage for full ones on a regular schedule. We never have to worry about going somewhere to fill up, which allows our operators to spend time mowing rather than refueling.”
According to Burns, Columbus hasn’t installed on-site infrastructure yet, because they want to monitor their propane usage for a couple more mowing seasons. However, after experiencing positive results, he is now considering additional refueling options.
“Our refueling program works really well so far, but as we look toward the future and consider the bigger picture, we’re likely to install on-site infrastructure,” Burns says. “We haven’t entered into a bulk rate contract yet, and that will be the first step we take before moving to an on-site tank.”
A bulk-rate contract allows end-users to lock in a set price per gallon, ensuring they’ll pay a consistent price for propane year-round. The arrangement insulates contractors from fluctuations in fuel price, and the fuel savings can lead to a quicker return on investment. Without a contract, Columbus still reports saving about 50 cents per gallon on propane when compared with gasoline.
“It gives us peace of mind knowing we don’t have to adjust fuel budgets to account for pilferage anymore.”
Fleet Operations Manager
Another benefit of propane is that it’s a closed fuel system, which eliminates fuel spills and is better for the environment. More than 17 million gallons of gasoline are reportedly spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. The closed fuel system also eliminates fuel pilferage, because propane cannot be siphoned out of the cylinder and easily used to refuel other equipment or vehicles.
“Reducing theft is another part of our Green Fleet Action Plan. It gives us peace of mind knowing we don’t have to adjust fuel budgets to account for pilferage anymore,” Burns explains.
Performance is always an important consideration when adopting any type of equipment, and it was a factor the parks department considered when testing the propane-powered Exmark mowers.
“Propane mower performance is similar to that of conventional fuels,” Seeds says. “You don’t lose any horsepower, yet they’re much quieter, and you can refuel in about 30 seconds. Most notably, though, the fuel doesn’t smell like gasoline or diesel.”
Reducing unpleasant fumes was an unexpected but welcome benefit for Columbus’s parks. Constant lingering odors can have a significant impact on park visitors and whether they have a positive experience.
“You can’t miss the lingering fumes from gasoline-fueled mowers,” Seeds says. “The smell is extremely overbearing and uninviting for our residents.”
All of Columbus’s premier downtown parks are using propane now, primarily because the mowers eliminate fumes and perform exceptionally well in tight spaces.
“Overall, we’ve had a really positive experience with our propane mowers,” Burns says. “Some of the suburbs around Columbus have been waiting to see what our experiences with propane would be, and I’d encourage any of them to make the change and adopt the clean fuel.”