Blogs > Ron Jones > March 2012

The Elephant in the Front Yard

Hard as it is to imagine, it’s already time for our outdoor living issue for 2012 and that got me to thinking about a really interesting and informative book I came across called “The New American Landscape”, edited by Thomas Christopher (Timber Press, Inc. 2011), in which I found some stunning statistics about lawns in America.

The book says that according to studies of NASA satellite imaging the country’s number one irrigated crop is, you guessed it, lawn grass. In fact, American lawns cover more than 40,000 square miles, ironically, a land area larger than the state of Kentucky.

It goes on to state that “a 2002 Harris Survey suggests as a nation we spend $28.9 billion yearly on lawns” (that’s about $1,200 per household) and that we use three times as much synthetic pesticide on our laws as we do per acre of agricultural crops, or about 67 million pounds annually according to the Safer Pest Control Project.

Another startling set of numbers comes courtesy of the EPA: “54 million Americans mow their lawns each weekend, using 800 million gallons of gas per year and producing tons of air pollutant… older gas-powered mower emits the same pollutants as forty-three cars being driven 12,000 miles per year.” Even newer models of mowers emit “eleven times the pollutants of a new car.”

Adding a final insult to injury, it is reported that “seventeen million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment.”

But the stats of greatest concern are about water. Between fifty and seventy percent of residential water use is attributed to landscape, mostly lawns, translating to roughly ten thousand gallons of water per summer for each one thousand square feet of lawn.
So how did we come to find ourselves on this treadmill of “water, fertilize, mow…water, fertilize, mow” anyway?

The answer is more complex than it might seem at first blush. I remember building in a Southwestern desert climate city that at one time required projects to meet certain minimum percentage of turf in the landscape plan, an insane regulation that was later reversed in order to limit the amount of turf and other water guzzling landscape plants/trees in new projects.

We have seen public policy go to some pretty extreme measures to reduce water demand for landscape. The Southern Nevada Water Authority even offered homeowners $1.50 a square foot for removing grass from their landscape.

May I humbly offer that we might just want to use some common sense?

Posted: 3/15/2012 3:23:57 PM by Mary Kestner | with 3 comments

About Me

Ron Jones, Co-Founder and President of Green Builder® Media, is recognized as one of the fathers of the green building movement. Instrumental in establishing guidelines and programs through NAHB, USGBC and a variety of regional initiatives, he has more recently worked with the International Code Council in the development of both the National Green Building Standard (ICC 700) and the International Green Construction Code.

He is the charter chairman of the Green Builder Coalition, a grassroots non-profit advocacy group whose goal is to promote integrity in the building industry, and beyond, in an effort to return balance and harmony to the relationship between the built environment and the natural one.

A recognized author and keynote speaker on four continents, his industry credentials and leadership experience, combined with his inspirational message and “take no prisoners” style, make him a high-demand presenter for conferences and events of all kinds.




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