For decades, a suburban house with green lawns has been an indication of success, a symbol of the American Dream. While a vividly green grass is pleasant to eyes, it is not so “green” from an environmental perspective. A closer look at the energy and resources that goes into maintaining lawns shows that it is not very eco-friendly and sustainable.
Most lawnmowers today are gas-powered and their contribution to air pollution is often overlooked. An estimated 16 to 41 billion pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) is being emitted from lawn mowers every year (1). Lawns do sequester a portion of these emissions, but not as much as trees. In addition, lawn mowers and garden equipment emit high levels of pollutants (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide), producing up to 5% of the U.S.’ air pollution (2). While these numbers trail behind other polluting activities (air transport, manufacturing), it’s a significant price to pay for aesthetic greenery. That’s not even accounting the 235 trillion gallons of residential water used every year to water lawns in the U.S (3) .
Aside from their high carbon footprint, maintaining lawns also involve a considerable use of pesticides and toxic fertilizers. They are not only harmful to humans, but also contaminate ground water and animals. The long-term effect of these synthetic fertilizers is still unknown. By treating lawns with pesticides, populations of pollinators (e.g., bees) are unintentionally being destroyed.
If lawns are so problematic, what’s a better alternative? You can transform your backyard lawn into a permaculture garden to grow local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. This way, your idle plot of land will be more productive and provide you with food. The diverse garden in place of a lawn will also attract a diverse fauna (bees, butterflies, worms, etc.). If you’re not ready yet for a full-on garden, you can reduce your carbon footprint by using organic fertilizers and battery-powered gardening equipment. You can also leave a portion of your yard untouched and “wild” to promote biodiversity.
Written by Kelly Jean, Class of 2022