The Grass Is Always Greener with Sustainable Lawn Tips

Guidance from LEED EB O+M to apply at work and home

The Grass Is Always Greener with Sustainable Lawn Tips


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LEED Existing Buildings Operations + Maintenance is a tool for facility managers and building owners. Discover how its concepts apply at home, so you can help the planet while maintaining your yard.

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LEED lawnSpring has sprung in the Northern Hemisphere, and each day we see more and more gardens and lawns spruced up from spring clean-up. As the season develops and moves us closer to summer, lawn wars start. In pursuit of the most perfect lawn, let’s review the human (and canine) and environmental impacts of lawn wars. In this blog, we explore the principles found in LEED’s Existing Building Operations & Maintenance (O+M) Site Management Plan so you can make your yard and gardens healthy for you and the planet.

It’s Not Music to the Ears

There are reasons many municipalities have codified restrictions about when lawn equipment can be used--or more specifically, when it cannot. Have you ever rolled over on a warm Sunday morning to be awakened by the whirling of a weed whacker? Gas powered lawn equipment is bad for your ears. Period.

In fact, the LEED Existing Building Operations & Maintenance (O+M) Site Management Plan requires you to, “Select and use low-decibel, powered maintenance equipment with low hydrocarbon (HC), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and carbon monoxide (CO) emissions.” It goes on to say, “Emissions can be reduced by replacing gasoline-powered equipment with manual strategies or electric-powered equipment.”

So starting today, wear your ear plugs, ask your landscaper if they provide them for their crews (you could if they do not), and if you are a do-it-yourselfer, make a plan to get off the loud gas machines.

Pro-Tip: Gas-powered lawn equipment is bad for the environment. Their motors generate 8-times more nitrogen oxides, 33,000-times more hydrocarbons, and 5,000-times more carbon monoxide than electric mowers. Develop a phase-out plan to go all electric!

Naked Toes In Grass Can Be Dangerous

The sensation of bare feet on soft grass is calming to many people--but to make it so soft, it often requires chemicals that have multiple damaging effects. Did you know that if your green grass gets to that weed-free, pristine presentation with the use of chemicals, it’s a likely source of irritation to someone somewhere? Also, did you know that for every 1 ton of fertilizer manufactured, 2 tons of carbon dioxide emissions are produced? And let’s not forget about the other greenhouse gases produced in the process like methane and nitrous oxide. On top of that, any nitrogen that isn’t absorbed by plants in the fertilization process becomes converted by microbes into nitrous oxide, compounding the negative effect that chemical fertilizers can have. Excess fertilizer also ends up in water runoff, contaminating natural rivers, lakes, and ponds.

Organic fertilizers can take a bit more time to get to work, but when done at the right time of year and in the right amount, will produce a beautifully healthy lawn without any of the harmful side effects of chemical fertilizers.

bad for caninesIf you follow our blogs, you may recall that my 2022 Personal Goal was to get off lawn chemicals. Even though I was told the previous treatment cycle I was using was safe for children and animals, the results are clear: nope. Meet Zeus, my COVID-inspired family member. The discolored pink fur on his paws are a reaction to my "safe" chemically treated lawn. They bother him enough that he’s developing an aversion to playing on the grass. Enter a local organic lawn care company that uses corn-based products to mitigate weeds and pests.

Pro-Tip: O+M best practices do suggest using non-chemical methods 100% of the time before reaching for the chemicals.

Clean Gutters Control Erosion

There are a number of studies done that show how erosion is bad for the planet. It can increase pollution, it can clog waterways which then effect the sea life... the list goes on. You can help control erosion by cleaning out your gutters! It may seem like a reach, but it's not. If your gutters and storm drains aren’t clear, you will likely see your hard work runoff into the street. Or, you may get puddling that kills your new plant babies.

If you have areas in your gardens where water naturally runs, consider implementing a French drain or adding river rocks and pebbles to facilitate water movement without it taking the earth with it.

Pro-Tip: Please be safe when cleaning the gutters--ladders are dangerous!

Paper Lawn Bags Breakdown Faster

Composting natural food waste and decaying plants can provide a healthy and nutritious meal for your lawn. A healthier lawn and reducing waste is a nice 2-for-1 deal that doesn’t need to cost you a dime. But it's not always convenient or possible for some to compost onsite.

If you don't, you likely bundle your debris in disposable containers. While Hefty swears by the efficacy of its black lawn bags, they simply take longer to break down than the paper lawn bags available at most hardware, grocery and drug stores. Key lessons on paper bags include:

  • Keep them dry! They will rot and be hard to lift if they get wet.
  • Don’t overfill them. They will rip and you will then have to start over.
  • Don’t throw miscellaneous plastic gardening trash into your yard bags. 

How to Choose What to Plant

The term “native adaptive” applies to plants, shrubs, trees, bushes and seed mix. The more native-adaptive species in your yard, the less maintenance and watering you will require since native plants are accustomed to the weather conditions in your region.

For lawns, best practice includes two or more species in a mix. Not sure where to start? It’s easy to find lists like this for Ohio from local universities, park systems, and other interested agencies and organizations. 

Additionally, native plants and organic lawns attract critters like spiders, birds, and other crawlers that will defend your lawn from invaders like cutworms, army worms, and grubs. This is a much more sustainable method of pest control than showering your lawn with pesticides.

Final Thoughts – A Hand From Emerald

LEED Existing Building Operations + Maintenance is a rating system designed to help demonstrate performance and track improvements. It engages stakeholders in feedback loops to improve occupant comfort in buildings, and it guides facility managers in procedures for sustainable facility maintenance. As requirements to report carbon emissions increase as leaders move to decarbonize, it is a tool for building owners and tenants to measure and report.  

Wanting to improve but not exactly sure where to start? Emerald Built Environments is the specialist when it comes to ensuring buildings and properties meet environmental certification. We have helped many businesses achieve LEED certification (as well as multiple other green building certifications) and are eager to do the same for you.

Interested in Learning More? Ask Us Today!

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