Press Release

Groundbreaking Report Demonstrates Benefits of Sustainable Land Care Practices on College Campuses

First-of-its-kind report by Herbicide-Free Campus shows cost savings, healthier environments, and water conservation when campuses move away from toxic pesticides

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (April 7, 2022) A new report published by Herbicide-Free Campus, a project at Earth Island Institute, reveals that eliminating synthetic pesticides and transitioning to organic land management on college campuses can save money, create healthier environments, and conserve water.

“This report is really the first of its kind,” said Mackenzie Feldman, executive director of Herbicide-Free Campus, a women-led and youth-run national organization that works to create more sustainable living environments on college campuses. “As we grow the national movement of students, faculty, staff, and alumni pushing for healthier, safer campuses for all, it is important to understand the long-term ecological and financial benefits of eliminating toxic, synthetic pesticides. The research highlighted in this report shows the many long-term positive impacts after an organic transition that can help mitigate the intersecting climate and biodiversity crises, as well as protect human health.”

Based on interviews Herbicide-Free Campus conducted with land care and sustainability professionals at eight different institutions of higher education, The State of Ecological Campus Land Management Across the U.S. details the costs and benefits of and the best practices employed in transitioning to organic land care.

“This report is something positive in the midst of burdensome times,” said Shannon Britton, grounds and landscaping manager at Seattle University. “Universities going pesticide-free should be so proud for considering the next generations in their land-care practices today.”

“It’s really shocking that most colleges still rely heavily on synthetic pesticides to achieve their aesthetic goals, especially when there are so many schools innovating and transitioning to organic land care,” said Sheina Crystal, director of communications and campaigns for Herbicide-Free Campus. “Why are other schools not eagerly jumping on the organic land care bandwagon? With the health of the approximately 20 million students currently enrolled in institutions of higher education on the line, not to mention climate change and biodiversity loss, it’s mind-boggling that so many schools are resistant to changing their ways.”

The report shows that schools that take the leap and transition to organic land care can cut water use by up to 30 percent, and many of the schools that researchers talked to have also seen cost savings. Harvard, for example, eliminated the annual $35,000 cost of removing landscape waste and began composting it instead, saving an additional $10,000 per year in fertilizer costs.

The report also includes additional data from a survey conducted by Herbicide-Free Campus. Results show that grounds managers and sustainability directors at more than 30 different institutions of higher education are concerned about the environmental impacts of, and personal exposure to, pesticides. Over 75 percent of respondents indicated interest in reducing synthetic pesticide use and implementing organic land-care methods, and, in general, respondents reported that key barriers include lack of information as well as the belief that organic land care is more costly, more time-intensive, and more labor-intensive.

Schools highlighted in this report include: Harvard University; Cascadia College; UW Bothell; Seattle University; University of California, Berkeley; Reed College; University of Colorado, Boulder; University of Texas, Austin; and Willamette University. The authors of the report are: Sheina Crystal, the director of communications and campaigns with Herbicide-Free Campus; Bridget Gustafson, the director of student fellowships with Herbicide-Free Campus; Rose Williamson, the program and operations coordinator with Herbicide-Free Campus; Seamus Masterson, Herbicide-Free Campus research fellow and student at Georgetown University; and the Herbicide-Free Campus team.

Find the full report here.