Americans love their lawns - so much so that they've planted some
30 million acres of them - from the White House to the California
If you lumped them all together, they could cover an area the
size of Mississippi.
But concerns are rising that those lush, weed-free lawns
represent an environmental hazard. The problem isn't the lawns
themselves, which benefit the environment in many ways, critics say.
It's the way they encourage overuse of everything from fertilizer
and pesticides to water.
Such practices are coming under increasing scrutiny, not only
from environmentalists but also from lawn-industry companies, which
are keeping a wary eye on the amorphous, but rapidly growing,
organic lawn movement.
"Lawns probably haven't risen to the level of a major national
environmental issue - yet," says Paul Parker, executive vice
president of the Center for Resource Management in Salt Lake City, a
nonprofit environmental group that encourages collaboration among
business leaders, government, and environmental groups. "But the
acreage of lawns is so significant that water, pesticide use, and
loss of wildlife habitat are increasingly important."
* For the first time ever, lawn equipment, fertilizer, and
pesticide industry representatives have joined with environmental
groups and the Environmental Protection Agency to create a "Lawn and
Environment Coalition." In March, the coalition unveiled the first-
ever draft guidelines for national lawn-care practices to help
Americans protect the environment while they green their lawns.
* By most accounts, the number of lawn care companies touting a
natural, organic approach is rising rapidly. At least one
traditional lawn care company is developing its own line of organic
products - although there's no agreement on what "organic" means.
* San Antonio's water department is working with builders to
encourage the use of more drought-tolerant grasses in subdivisions.
In Milford, Conn., residents hold "freedom lawn" competitions,
giving awards to the best-looking lawns that eschew the standard
* Across the border in Canada, Quebec will restrict the cosmetic
use of lawn and garden pesticides beginning next year. Dozens of
other Canadian municipalities have also restricted pesticide use.
* The National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon
Society are among several groups now campaigning to convince
Americans to plant more gardens and plants and less lawn. If
attendance at organic lawn-care classes is any indication, consumers
are beginning to listen.
Two years ago, Leticia Safran told her husband she was dropping
their traditional lawn-care service to go the natural route. "What
made me switch was my three kids and our dog," says the Natick,
Mass., homemaker. "On the days when the chemical company came to
spray the lawn, I just didn't have a good feeling about the little
sign they put on lawn - telling us to stay off for two days."
Instead, she hired an organic specialist who treated her lawn
with a combination of gypsum, compost, humate shale - and a
combination fish-emulsion and seaweed spray. This spring her lawn
received those ingredients plus a "compost tea" that also included
yucca extracts and sugar.
The Safrans could be on to the next big thing. About 4 out of 5
US households have private lawns, according to a 1998 academic
study. They are typically about a third of an acre, and in 2003,
Americans spent $38.4 billion tending those yards and gardens, about
$457 per household, says the National Gardening Association. A
growing portion of that money appears to be going organic, observers
"Hybrid mowers, water conserving sprinklers, and organic
fertilizers are all potential gold mines for industry players,"
wrote Don Montuori, acquisitions editor for Packaged Facts, in a
market-research report last spring. …