Continued sustainable land management efforts by grounds crews across the university have resulted in a 54 percent reduction in the use of traditional chemicals on campus property in 2014.

Applications of synthetic chemicals were reduced to less than 21,000 pounds last year, a nearly 25,000-pound decrease compared to the amount of chemicals used on campus property in 2006.

The decrease exceeds the university’s sustainability goal to reduce the amount of chemicals used on campus by 40 percent below 2006 levels in protection of the Huron River.

While university data shows a shift to decrease applications and a trend toward more environmentally friendly practices, land management applications can fluctuate each year due to changes in weather, pests, fungi outbreaks and other landscape needs.

This chart shows the progress toward U-M’s goal of reducing the amount of chemicals used in land management. (Chart courtesy of the Office of Campus Sustainability)

Rob Doletzky of Plant Building and Grounds Services explains the university continues to search for ways to enhance sustainable land management practices on campus even beyond reaching the goal.

“Since the announcement of the sustainability goal of a 40 percent reduction in landscape chemicals, I’m proud to say that our staff has taken the proper steps to reach this goal,” Doletzky says.

“Staff continues to search for and test new organic and environmentally friendly products as well as new techniques that can help us reach an even greater reduction in landscape chemical use.”

The 54 percent reduction is largely due to a campuswide transition toward using organic fertilizer on lawn areas, led by the university’s Sustainable Land Management Guidelines and supported by staff from Plant Building and Grounds Services, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, Rec Sports and Athletics, including Radrick Farms and the U-M Golf Course.

Use of organic fertilizers enrich soil and improve the soil’s ability to hold water and nutrients, release nutrients more slowly and are less likely to leach nutrients into the groundwater.

In addition to replacing synthetic with organic products, many campus partners are expanding the use of lower-maintenance natural areas, which reduces stormwater runoff and the need for applications, and increases wildlife habitat.

Commitment toward protecting the health of the campus community and watershed is evident in other practices on campus as well. Most recently, the Diag was treated using a more environmentally friendly weed treatment that uses iron chelate rather than toxic synthetic chemicals to kill weeds, and is approved by the EPA as a low-risk alternative.

A Grounds Services worker applies fertilizer in the Diag. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Campus Sustainability)

Both the Radrick Farms and U-M Golf courses have extensive green certifications for their responsible land management practices, including the Washtenaw County Community Partners for Clean Streams, which specifically targets water quality.  They also utilize expertise from the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program, the Michigan Clean Corporate Citizens Program, the ePar environmental management system and the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program. 

“We are fortunate to have many great programs available that help us have a positive impact on our environment and community,” said Corbin Todd, director of the U-M Golf Courses and chair of the Athletics Sustainability Committee. 

To receive MTESP certification, grounds management crews must demonstrate practices that prevent pollution, reduce energy and waste, and protect water resources.  The university plans to work with the State of Michigan to expand the MTESP certification to include the broader campus area managed by Ground Services, making the Ann Arbor campus one of the first to earn the certification beyond golf course borders.  

Tags: