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The home improvement executive pushing electric lawn mowers

Ron Jarvis is out in front of The Home Depot’s most ambitious sustainability pledge to date: a plan to drastically cut emissions from its outdoor lawn equipment, the biggest contributor to the company’s carbon footprint.

The company announced a plan last month to have more than 85 percent of its sales of lawn mowers, leaf blowers and trimmers run on rechargeable batteries instead of gas by the end of fiscal year 2028 — a move it estimates will reduce more than 2 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. It comes as California is set to implement a ban on gas-powered landscaping equipment starting next year.

Now Jarvis, Home Depot’s chief sustainability officer, has to figure out how to execute the plan — and sell it to the general public.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How long has this announcement been in the works?

We’ve been working with our suppliers to bring battery-operated lawn maintenance equipment in for about 10 years. And as that process evolved, and the technology got better, today when you buy an electric mower and you push it into the weeds and the dandelions and everything else, it rips it apart and leaves a beautiful trail behind it, just like the gas-powered does. So we wanted to get to that type of technology before we moved forward with rolling this out.

We’ve probably been working for about a year and a half on how quickly can we transition this industry and how fast can we and should we move on this. We’re pretty excited. We see the transition party happening in many, many markets. We see the technology being there.

A lot of times when consumers move from a product to an environmentally friendlier product, they feel like they’re taking a step backwards — it doesn’t work as well, it doesn’t last as long. There’s usually some give-and-take with that. But we found with these products that they’re just as powerful. They have just as much torque. They do the jobs in the adequate time that’s needed for the batteries. And customers aren’t giving up anything. They’re gaining. They’re gaining a quieter, cleaner, greener yard and helping the environment through the whole process.

How does this announcement help you from a business perspective?

We will have customers coming in demanding electric and battery-operated lawn equipment. So we’ve done a lot to educate the customers, we’ve done a lot to make sure that the products are worthy of them making the transition. This isn’t incremental business. We’re not bringing in a new line of widgets that’s incremental sales. This is replacing sales.

But what we do know and what we do think is to our advantage is to be a leader and to get ahead of this. If we think that American yards need battery-operated mowers, then let’s do it for them. Let’s not have the customer stand in the aisle and have to choose between “Do I want to do something good for the environment or something good for my wallet?” So now we have opening price points. We have price points that are equal to the gas-powered. And when you look at the long-term maintenance of the products, when you’re not buying gas every week, you don’t have to buy the oil spark plugs, you don’t have those issues with battery-operated engines.

What role is policy playing in this announcement, if any? Have policies like California’s ban on gas-powered lawn equipment nudged you in this direction?

No, it hasn’t nudged us. We were headed down this path long before any policy came out. We’re putting this in the markets where there is no policy or legislation. We think it’s the right thing to do. And we would have done it even if there wasn’t policy or legislation.

How will you get to these big goals in five short years?

We have a plan in place. We have been transitioning some stores, we’ve been piloting stores, where you can’t buy gas equipment. We’ve been watching the sales of those, listening to the customers, getting feedback, spending time with the suppliers in the aisles of those stores, hearing what the customers are saying. And as we do, we bring the battery-operated products into a store — usually slowly, we’ll take three or four units, switch those out to battery. That lets customers see that we have battery-powered equipment and then slowly wean over 12, 24, 36 months to where when a customer comes into a store they’re going to be buying battery-operated lawn maintenance equipment.

Do you see this being a particularly challenging transition for landscapers, for instance?

It’s definitely easier if you have a smaller yard. A lot of these last, depending on the torque and the height of the grass, 30 minutes to 45 minutes to an hour, some of them longer. What we’re hearing landscapers do is to buy multiple batteries and have some type of charging system in their truck. So they just switch those [batteries] out. And it’s the great thing about technology: This will continue to get better. The batteries and the battery power, whatever the equipment is today, it’s a ton better than it was 10 years ago. And it’ll be much better than it is five years from now. So I have a tremendous amount of confidence in innovation in technology that is going to continue to get better. Contractors will just have the adequate equipment that they need to do the bigger jobs.

How big of a difference will there be in price?

We’ve been able to keep those pretty much at parity. If we had an opening price point of $299 on the gas, then that’s the opening price point of battery. And they work great. I have a battery-operated leaf blower, trimmer, chainsaw, push mower that I use a lot. I’m very happy with the technology in terms of the performance of those products.

Will Home Depot support the right to repair for these battery-powered products?

We’re all for this. We support the right to repair. There will be companies — small cottage industries that pop up that specialize in battery-operated lawn equipment just as they’ve done in gas-powered as that demand gets greater. I would assume that the small engine repair store that’s down the street will still be doing small engine repair for electric.

So you have no problem opening your book so to speak to the small repairman to fix a Home Depot battery-powered lawn mower?

We’d be all for that. We want people to repair products, and longevity of these products is important to us.

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