Could the Grass Be Greener?
Lawn turf is America's biggest crop--and a mixed bag for the environment
The lawn-care industry is pushing back with a consortium of its own. Den Gardner, executive director of Project EverGreen, says that environmentalists overstate the dangers of proper lawn-chemical use and overlook the benefits entirely. A well-landscaped yard can add 15 percent to a house's value, he notes, and recent studies have shown that healthy lawns absorb water and nutrients even better than natural landscapes like forests, so they could help prevent erosion and harmful runoff in some cases. Add in the recreation value of grassy areas, from weekend soccer games to thousands of backyard cookouts, says Gardner, and you've got not just a lawn but a central part of American life.
Paul Robbins, a geographer at the University of Arizona who studies American lawn-care behavior, agrees that the patches of green occupy a central point in the national psyche. But he says that using chemicals to achieve the manicured look actually undermines one of the main reasons people put so much effort into their lawns in the first place. "People want to make connections and do right by their neighbors," he says, "and keeping a well-tended lawn is one way to do that." In a national survey, he says, homeowners who used lawn chemicals were more likely to know their neighbors by name. "But they were also more likely to sit up at night worrying about whether they were hurting their neighbors and the environment."