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Accolades & Honors

The University grounds team is making campus cleanup quieter and more sustainable

A person moves leaves into a pile using a backpack leaf blower.

Leaf removal during the autumn months is a monumental, but important task: Left unattended, leaf litter creates additional safety hazards in an urban environment, including dangerously slick surfaces for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists and blocked drainage that can lead to flooding.

It’s also one that has gotten noticeably quieter over the years.

Pitt’s grounds crew has been a leader in electrifying small handheld equipment, with approximately 95% transitioned from fossil fuels since 2015. Its latest transition to battery-powered backpack leaf blowers is just one of the many sustainability initiatives detailed in the 2018-22 Progress Report on the Pitt Sustainability Plan.

“Our team is doing an amazing job of keeping the campus beautiful and safe while we integrate equipment that aligns with our emissions goals of carbon neutrality by 2037,” said Andy Moran, senior manager of grounds.

Traditional gas-powered leaf blowers produce a considerable amount of noise, ranging from 85-100 decibels. According to the CDC, prolonged noise over 70 decibels can damage hearing. By contrast, electric-powered leaf blowers can be as low as 65 decibels — the same decibel level as a normal conversation.

In addition to being louder, the two-stroke engines used in gas-powered leaf blowers release large amounts greenhouse gases and carcinogens. A study measuring emissions found gas-powered leaf blowers release 20-300 times more pollutants than a Ford F-150 truck.

Learn more about how the Office of Facilities Management incorporates sustainability into maintaining the grounds year-round.


— Joshua Kaufer and Melanie Lippert, photography by Joshua Kaufer