Lest I be accused of focusing on homeowners rather than commercial property owners, I find that the same misplaced priorities exist with them but at an even higher ratio. Many large corporations have campuses, most of which are lawn that is never used for anything. We need to change the outlook of these corporate executives and of their architects and landscape architects.
Some change has already begun, as evidenced by a 2009 Business Quarterly survey that asked firm contacts about client demand and design alternatives for traditional turfgrass. Overall, 35.2 % of firms reported increased demand for turfgrass alternatives. The top reasons for requested alternatives were saving money on utility/maintenance costs, meeting green design benchmarks like the Sustainable Sites Initiative, lowered upkeep time and effort, reducing environmental harm, and meeting a government ordinance or code.
The huge spaces of corporate campuses could enrich the lives of their employees if they were designed with plants that please the eye and attract wildlife. There are so many beautiful plants that would bring birds and butterflies. A few days ago, while snow covered the ground, I looked outside my office window and saw a flock of robins (that don’t fly south for the winter any more) sitting in my old crabapple tree, feasting on the dried fruits. Connecting with nature in this way enriches the soul; looking out the window at an expanse of lawn does not.
In St.Louis, there is a perfect example of corporate environmental awareness. The Alberici Redevelopment Corporation converted a 50-year-old manufacturing facility into its new corporate headquarters which earned LEED Platinum certification. It is considered a model of sustainable design and construction practices.
The landscaping surrounding the building is a stylized prairie.
Further from the building is a constructed prairie with extensive use of native prairie plants, thus eliminating the need for an irrigation system. Walking trails give employees and visitors the opportunity to learn about nature or take a break in a natural environment. In the prairie, Alberici erected a 65-kilowatt wind turbine capable of generating 20 percent of the building’s total energy needs.
Alberici also constructed two retention ponds to eliminate storm water runoff. A catchment system collects rainwater from the garage roof area. The rainwater is stored in a cistern, treated, and then used for sewage conveyance, saving nearly 150,000 gallons of potable water per year.
In a perfect world, the desire to improve the environment for the generations to come would be enough to change our philosophy and practices of “lawnkeeping”. Hopefully, dialogue and awareness are increasing and will continue to change the philosophy that lawn is necessary and the more the better.