Turf accounting

This is an interesting insight into how America's lawn accounting is not environmentally friendly or healthy for our nation.
Allies and Partners
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ACES leaders and Youth Corps team members

Editor’s note:

This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship and leadership coordinated by ACES — The Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

In the U.K., a “turf accountant” is, or was if old movies were right, basically a legal bookie. They were independent but licensed bet takers on tracks around the kingdom.

But today, one of the first hot days of 2023, we can reflect on a Readers Digest article about a different type of ‘turf accounting’. Specifically, how our American lawn culture is not environmentally friendly or good for biodiversity and our health. The title of their piece is “Lawn Gone” and they pose the question abstracted from The Washington Post story by Dan Zak. In the article they post reasons to think that the case including:

Lawns are thirsty – With most U.S. states in drought conditions, they tell us that an hour of typical lawn watering uses about 1,000 gallons of water. This makes lawns our largest single irrigated “crop.”

Maintenance is noxious – In 2018, all the gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers used 3 billion gallons of gas in the U.S. alone. That’s roughly the same amount as consumed by driving 6 million passenger cars in a year! Talk about noxious fumes and greenhouse gases.

Fertilizer pollutes – Imagine one big pile of chemical fertilizers used annually. It’s a mountain really. Now imagine that mountain of fertilizer is just a foothill to the mountain ten times larger in the background. That’s right our lawns consume 10 times as much chemical fertilizer as all our farm crops do! and the runoff from that fertilizer pollutes streams and damages fish and wildlife, de-oxygenates the oceans and supports toxic algae blooms.

ACES and all our allies are especially attuned to the benefits of minimizing or at least reducing the size of our lawns. Less lawn is positive for biodiversity. We reduce the 80 million pounds of pesticides and herbicides we, or our lawns services, spread. We help bees, butterflies, and other pollinators which are critical for practically every food chain we depend upon. Many of the chemicals used are harmful to humans’ health as noted when lawn care companies put up those little flags after an application to keep kids and pets off the newly treated lawn.

How to start reducing the size of your lawn while adding beauty to your yard? Make a little picture frame around your lawn. Plan to not mow a 2-foot margin around the perimeter of your lawn, or maybe not mow the corners but rather visualize a rounded little wild place. Along the sides of the frame as you see what native plants might pop start digging up sections strategically and planting a pollinator garden.

Using native perennial flowering plants, small shrubs and grasses you will soon see the good results of your efforts. Need help getting started? Check out one of our local town’s garden clubs and for sure check out ACES Ally, Pollinator PowerWorks at

Lastly, have fun with the kids or grandkids doing stuff like this. Let them dig up the picture frame edges, make little sculptural piles out of stones and sticks in the corners for chipmunks to hide. You can look at the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy online to get some imaginative ideas. His are too big and too good perhaps for the average home yard conversion, but you’ll get some good ideas as you visualize spring planting season.

Thanks to The Washington Post, as relayed by The Reader’s Digest, we know good reasons to reconsider our lawns and lawn care.

Our Youth Corps asks you to consider these ideas. They hope everyone will care about the future of our planet and provide any thoughts about a project or practice that could contribute to a healthy environment. Send us a note at To learn more about ACES and its Initiatives, visit

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