By: Saad Ejaz and Hetal Patel

It may be difficult to imagine, but there are all sorts of creative alternatives out there to help create a more sustainable campus.

Typical discussions about sustainability tend to talk less about how to conserve water in our lawn maintenance endeavours. Although there is not much thought given to water use in this context, highlighting issues like these can be a solid first step in developing a respectful attitude towards water use and decreasing wasteful activities.

As Canadians, we are privileged enough to have access to one fifth of the world’s surface freshwater. However, we are not always mindful in our use of this scarce resource. If we continue to contribute to the upward trends of wasteful water usage, we may fall victim to water scarcity at home.

One of the greatest water- consuming activities we engage in is maintaining our gardens and lawns. On average, traditional grass lawn size of 0.18 acres needs an estimated 40 to 70 litres per day to water. McMaster’s total landscape area, taken care of by the grounds staff, is 300 acres. This means that we use roughly more than 100,000 litres.

A traditional green lawn serves the purposes of recreational use and aesthetic value. However, what if we considered an alternative that could serve those same purposes while using less water?

The costs of traditional grass lawn mowing and maintenance can range from $214 to $322 on average for 0.18 acres. Imagine the amount of money McMaster spends on lawn maintenance for over 300 acres of grass.

A substitute for traditional grass lawns are clovers, which have become a popular alternative due to the benefits that they present. This is largely due to clover being inexpensive, easy to grow and requires little attention and maintenance.

Currently, the cost of a traditional grass lawn is estimated between $8 to $12 for 4,000 square feet. This may not seem like much, however it is quite expensive when we compare it to the cost of having clover. It costs approximately $4 to plant clover over an area of four thousand square feet. Why not opt for the cheaper alternative and save money?

While it does require initial watering, the clover lawn requires little to no additional water once established. This would allow us save hundreds of liters of water that would otherwise be consumed for the same purpose.

Another important point to consider is that each year we spend hundreds of dollars on grass lawn maintenance. We can reduce this cost through the use of clovers since they are nitrogen fixing plants that enrich the soil with natural fertilizer. In addition to not needing chemical fertilizers, clover also stays green in the driest part of the summer without the need for water.

As much as we may enjoy mowing our lawns on a John Deere lawn tractor, clover does not require any mowing maintenance. The costs of traditional grass lawn mowing and maintenance can range from $214 to $322 on average for 0.18 acres. Imagine the amount of money McMaster spends on lawn  maintenance for over 300 acres of grass.

Looking at it from an environmental perspective, there would be a lower release in greenhouse emissions due to less use of machines that mow the grass. Not to mention the amount of money we would be saving on gasoline, the purchase of a lawn mower and the maintenance of the mower. These are massive costs that we can save at McMaster, and we can use that money towards other sustainable development practices.

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