‘Imperial Lawn’ Is Dead

Here’s a useful bit of research that affects many of us. It concerns the negative environmental effects caused by grass lawns, and ties the data directly to global warming and our climate change problems.  Comments afterwards.

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The Traditional ‘Imperial Lawn’ Is Dead

— Long Live the Trees


Cristen Hemingway Jaynes


January 13, 2023


Americans are well known for their evenly clipped, bright green lawns. But rather than being beneficial, these manicured greenspaces are actually detrimental to the environment.

In the U.S., more than 40 million acres of land is covered in some form of lawn, reported Insider. These lawns have the ability to act as carbon sinks that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but the substantial carbon cost of lawn maintenance often counteracts the benefits, making lawns climate change contributors, reported Princeton University.

In a new study, researchers encourage the planting of trees in place of “imperial” lawns to help fight the climate crisis.

Auckland University of Technology professor Len Gillman, who was the study’s lead author, said that while letting your pristine lawn go wild “might cut down on the emissions due to maintenance, it’s not going far enough. In terms of climate change we need to absorb as much carbon as we possibly can from the atmosphere… The biggest difference is that shrubs and trees will store vastly more carbon than a lawn,” as The Guardian reported.

The main problem with lawn maintenance is the equipment and chemicals used. Gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and chemical fertilizers release greenhouse gases that are bad for the environment and contribute to climate change. Lawns also require a lot of water to keep them green in a time of widespread water shortages and drought. And monochromatic turf is a wasteland in terms of biodiversity.

The study, “Calling Time on the Imperial Lawn and the Imperative for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation,” was published in the journal Global Sustainability by Cambridge University Press.

The researchers looked at 65 emissions and carbon sequestration studies comparing lawn or turf with trees, reported The Guardian. They found that as much as 1,797 tons of carbon dioxide could be removed from the atmosphere over two decades if trees were planted on one-third of the city lawns on Earth.

Earlier studies have shown that lawns make up 50 to 70 percent of the planet’s open urban green spaces.

As the climate crisis causes more extreme weather and droughts across the world, rewilding movements are encouraging people to plant wildflowers, trees and native grasses in place of their lawns.

Plants and trees reduce pollution and temperatures in cities and have been shown to provide a wide range of health benefits.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website:


“Spending time around trees and

looking at trees reduces stress, lowers

blood pressure and improves mood.


“Numerous studies show that both

exercising in forests and simply sit-

ting looking at trees reduce blood

pressure as well as the stress-related

hormones cortisol and adrenaline.”


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In developing the Garden Atriums net zero sustainable community, I consulted with a Milwaukee firm whose focus was making dead communities more lively.  One of their suggestions was to be sure that we had pedestrian crossroads … ways in which pedestrians could bump into one another and, in doing so, get acquainted with one another.

In a traditional subdivision, the core is the cul-de-sac. The car is king.  Many don’t even have a sidewalk, so there’s minimum pedestrian movement, and fewer or no cross paths.

In our Garden Atriums site planning, the drives are around the perimeter, so the interior of the site is all pedestrian.  To varying degrees, everyone knows everyone … which evolved a sense of community.

We have a grass lawn in our private park.  We do mow the grass, but use no chemicals.  While not technically an environmental concern, as subdivision front lawns lack privacy, they’re usually devoid of people. Comments from D:


Lawns from an eco-system perspective are ‘dead.’  They’re dead because of chemicals being put on the lawns.  They are dead because the soil beneath the lawn is not enhanced; it only has nutrients taken from it, not added to it.

“No bird or animal can survive living only on a lawn.  Whereas, when you put in trees and bushes, you will have birds and squirrels and other critters, making the ecosystem healthier … as well as taking carbon out of the air.”

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