BY SAM WATERSTONE | April 21, 2021
It’s springtime, and wildflowers are blooming at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG), where an exciting project is underway to convert the majority of the organization’s gardening equipment from gas to electric.
The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is an accredited “living museum,” located in Santa Barbara’s Mission Canyon, encompassing 78 acres of cultivated habitats featuring over 1,200 different California native plants from all regions of the state. The SBBG team maintains this living collection to provide recreational opportunities and educational programs for our communities, while also promoting conservation and conducting important native plant and habitat research.
As part of its mission, SBBG seeks to model environmentally sensitive stewardship in all aspects of its operations. Most recently, the Botanic Garden embarked on their “Gas to Electric Landscaping Equipment Conversion Initiative,” which proposes to convert 75 percent of their maintenance equipment from gas-powered to electric-powered by the end of 2021. With recent technological advances in commercial-grade electric equipment, SBBG determined that it could finally make the switch from gas to electric without sacrificing the efficiency, durability and sustainability of its maintenance equipment inventory.
In November 2020, the Santa Barbara Foundation awarded SBBG a $5,000 Small Capacity Building Grant in support of the conversion initiative. The Botanic Garden utilized these funds to purchase 13 essential pieces of electric landscaping equipment, including leaf blowers, trimmers, and chain saws, which will drastically decrease the organization’s consumption of fossil fuel.
“The pollution on a lot of these rudimentary gas-powered engines is kind of mind-blowing,” said Joe Rothleutner, Director of Horticulture & Facilities at SBBG. “You wouldn’t think that a leaf blower could be as bad as it is, but one hour of running a commercial leaf blower is like driving a car about 1,000 miles – that’s from here to Denver. So if we can stop operating gas-powered leaf blowers altogether, that is a really clear win, and other pieces of equipment are pretty similar.”
Rather than selling or donating the retired gas-powered equipment, SBBG plans to decommission the tools so they can no longer contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
“If we let somebody else take this equipment and run another business with it, then they would still be out there polluting. Instead, we’re trying to have those emissions stop here, so we’re going to be scrapping them,” explained Rothleutner. “That is one of the big things we’re going for as an organization – we’re trying to live with a very conservation-oriented mindset, and lead by example.”
Rothleutner is eager to use this initiative as a teachable moment for the community. He is partnering with his colleagues on SBBG’s Education & Engagement Team to teach visitors about the project’s positive impact on the environment, and encourage them to follow the Botanic Garden’s lead and convert to safer, less toxic electric equipment options.
“The Santa Barbara Foundation is truly excited to support our nonprofit sector as it shifts towards more environmentally friendly practices,” said Gary Clark, Director of the Collaboration for Social Impact at SBF. “This is a wonderful example of how a small grant can have a big impact – in this case, we’re able to help the Botanic Garden reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainability in our community.”
“We are very thankful to the Foundation for supporting us and giving us this opportunity to start moving towards one of our major conservation and sustainability goals – going electric,” Rothleutner shared.
To learn more about the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and plan your trip to see the beautiful meadows of California poppies in full bloom, visit sbbg.org.