Barry McLean, a fourth generation farmer from a Manitoban town of 300, moved to Victoria eight years ago to care for his mother. He wasn’t necessarily planning on staying, but he has since married and started a business, so the rest is history, so to speak. I had heard that Barry was making incredible advancements in his zero emission landscaping and gardening ventures here in Victoria and I was keen to learn more about his innovative business.
He started Clean Air Yard Care in 2010 inspired by his grandparents who practiced advanced organic farming techniques for 75 years. Earlier that year he had been redoing the landscaping in his front yard to include more native and drought resistant plants. After the fourth neighbour stopped by to admire his work, saying “you should go into landscaping!” he decided to give the idea some serious thought.
“Looking at the industry in Victoria,” he said, “there are a lot of guys who have just thrown a mower in the back of their truck. But I’ve never been much of a follower so I looked for an underserved niche.” Caring for the environment is a family tradition, Barry told me, building his business based on those values was a given.
What if he created a zero emissions lawn and yard care business, powered by solar energy that made no pollution and no noise? Not wanting to do anything half way, he decided to build a solar trailer that could power all of his equipment. The trailer has four solar panels (the complete unit is worth nearly $30,000) that feed DC power inside into a battery bank which is then converted to AC power. With that, Canada’s first zero emission yard care company was born. Even on a cloudy day, Barry told me, his solar trailer can run for weeks. If needed, he can plug it in and bulk charge the battery, but he has only needed to do that twice in the last two years.
Barry has a few residential clients, though appreciates the year round contracts found with strata and commercial contracts. His team has expanded to include more landscapers and a horticulturist, which he said are a huge assets to their company. They can advise clients on plant care and help them incorporate drought resistant or native plants into their garden.
The cumulative environmental impact of yard care in Canada is huge. Barry explained how a gasoline powered lawn mower emits about 106 lbs of greenhouse gases in one season. “They are very inefficient. Running an old lawn mower for an hour, for example, can produce as much air pollution as driving a new car 550 kilometers.” In addition, Barry continued, the impact of air, ground, and noise pollution associated with yard care in our communities is immense. He argued that “5 percent of Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions come from landscaping, not accounting for waste, and the sound of gasoline landscaping equipment can lead to hearing loss and increased anxiety in people nearby.”
Despite the serious drawbacks of conventional landscaping techniques (gasoline, oil, noise) people seem to resist altering their behaviour. “People get entrenched in the way they do things. The landscapers, but also the people who hire them don’t want to change,” Barry told me. “It comes down to the dollar. People will recycle and use organic fertilizer, but they won’t invest more… They just keep doing things the old way.”
Even when you focus on the dollar, however, Barry’s services are comparable to traditional landscapers. He charges $50 per labour hour, usually working out to around $150 to $200 per month in the summer. It’s tough being undercut by companies who haven’t made a significant upfront investment like he has with his solar trailer and equipment, but the “rampant greenwashing” in the sector is even more disheartening to him, he said. “Some ‘green’ landscapers drive up to consultations in electric cars and then come back for the job with a truck full of electric equipment that they’ve charged by plugging into the grid the night before.”
Moving the emission-intensive work behind the scenes or one step removed isn’t enough when it comes to addressing our personal contributions to climate change. There are other effective options, Barry concluded, but you have to be willing to do things differently.
“The other challenge we face,” Barry said, “is that 99% of the purchasing or contract agents give no environmental weight or considerations when evaluating tenders.”
“People need to understand the impact that the gas and noise of their machines have on their neighbours and the environment. They need to know there are alternatives.”
Clean Air Yard Care has been awarded both a Saanich and CRD Eco-Star Award for “Climate Action” and “Green Energy Leadership.” In 2015 Barry was a finalist for the CRD Eco-Star Awards for Eco-Prenuer of the Year.
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