Green Industry Articles

Tips for Your Buyers: Curbing Lawn Lust

A lush green lawn has long been prized in the American culture and routinely regarded as a selling point among real estate practitioners.

But such lawn lust is getting a second look by those committed to sustainability.

After all, that green carpet has serious environmental consequences when you consider the resources it devours and the chemical it emits in order for it to flourish. Those include water and gas and pesticides and herbicides that eventually run off and pollute waterways and disturb the aquatic ecosystem. Such chemicals also aren't healthy for adults, kids or pets.

"Unless your shiny green lawn can thrive without supplemental irrigation, gas-powered mowing, fertilizer and without spraying, that lawn of yours is leaving a pretty dirty footprint," comments Billy Goodnick, a Santa Barbara, Calif.-based landscape architect, educator and the writer behind Fine Gardening magazine's Cool Green Gardens blog.

Those are among the reasons that groups like the Lawn Reform Coalition (www.lawnreform.org) and the Sustainable Sites Initiative (www.sustainablesites.org) have emerged to promote more sustainable landscapes.

The Lawn Reform Coalition, for instance, includes gardening and environmental advocates from across the country who have joined forces to promote change in the American lawn. "The Lawn Reform Coalition wants people to rethink the idea that every home needs a sprawling,
unimaginative patch of green," says Goodnick, a coalition member. "We’re working to quiet the siren song of the ‘perfect’ lawn and providing practical resources for creating beautiful, lowmaintenance, environmentally-friendly landscapes."

And the Sustainable Sites Initiative has developed a performance benchmarking system for sustainable landscapes after recognizing that green building rating systems offer excellent tools for new and existing buildings, but relatively little for things beyond a building’s skin. The group is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden, and its rating system applies to numerous environments, including retail centers, subdivisions, corporate campuses and single-family homes.

A question that may emerge is, "So what? What do lawns have to do with green housing."

A lot.

"You can’t call a home 'green' if it’s surrounded by a sink-hole of resource-greedy, naturefouling lawn. A truly green lawn is one that doesn’t require a lot of inputs, like potable water and fossil fuels, and doesn’t produce waste or polluted run-off," says Goodnick.

If you or your clients are considering a lawn replacement or want to transition to a more sustainable landscape, resources and information abound.

Goodnick offers four paths to address lawn reform. They are:

1. Eliminate all turf and replace it with useful improvements, like lounging areas, paths, rain gardens or orchards.

2. Convert from resource-greedy varieties of grass to locally-adapted species, like buffalo grass or native sedges. Most use fifty percent less water and require less fertilizer and care than traditional grasses.

3. Keep lawn space just for recreation, and if you absolutely need a lawn, shrink it to save water, time and money and to reduce its environmental impacts.

4. Grow food. Although vegetables require about as much water as a typical lawn, the return on your efforts is immeasurably superior.

Additional sources of information include:

• The EPA's GreenScapes program provides environmentally-friendly landscaping solutions to preserve natural resources and prevent pollution.
• Calculate the resources a lawn is consuming
• Safelawns.org offers a series of videos on everything from aerating the lawn to composting, mulching and weed control

Source: Green REsource Council Newsletter, December 2009