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How the Turfmutt Foundation works to be the green industry’s ambassador

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Kris Kiser with Alisa Gray, president and CEO of the Kentucky Humane Society, and Mulligan the TurfMutt at TurfMutt Park, a dog park and exercise facility built by the Foundation for the KHS. (Photo: TurfMutt Foundation)
Kris Kiser with Alisa Gray, president and CEO of the Kentucky Humane Society, and Mulligan the TurfMutt at TurfMutt Park, a dog park and exercise facility built by the Foundation for the KHS. (Photo: TurfMutt Foundation)
Kris Kiser with Alisa Gray, president and CEO of the Kentucky Humane Society, and Mulligan the TurfMutt at TurfMutt Park, a dog park and exercise facility built by the Foundation for the KHS. (Photo: TurfMutt Foundation)
Kris Kiser with Alisa Gray, president and CEO of the Kentucky Humane Society, and Mulligan the TurfMutt at TurfMutt Park, a dog park and exercise facility built by the Foundation for the KHS. (Photo: TurfMutt Foundation)

The TurfMutt Foundation is the environmental education program founded by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) in 2009 to teach students, teachers and the public how to “save the planet, one yard at a time.” Since its inception, the program has reached more than 70 million children, educators and families through education partners such as Weekly Reader, Discovery Education and Scholastic.

It all started with a dog named Lucky, rescued and adopted by OPEI president and CEO, Kris Kiser in 2008. They quickly assembled a team that would shape the way future generations appreciate, interact with and find inspiration from the green space right outside their door. Now, Lucky passed that legacy on to another rescue pup, Mulligan the TurfMutt, and the mission continues.

“Using a dog as the face of the TurfMutt Foundation makes sense for a number of reasons,” says Kiser. “After all, who knows and appreciates the family yard more than a dog? We also knew that if we could reach kids with the program, they would ultimately teach their parents, and that has been a winning formula.”

Taking off

In 2009, Lucky the TurfMutt became a cartoon, and Weekly Reader collaborated to pilot the program in a handful of schools. In 2012, Discovery Education helped TurfMutt’s youth curriculum expand by rolling out lesson plans, multimedia content, and at-home activities for teachers, students and families nationwide.

That same year, TurfMutt held its first “Spruce Up Your School” sweepstakes and awarded a $5,000 grant to Palomar Elementary School in Chula Vista, Calif., to add trees and other green spaces to the schoolyard. San Diego-based Heaviland Enterprises planted 10 large canopy trees as a part of the project — each dedicated to a class at the school — and installed benches on the play area’s perimeter. This is just one of many examples of how TurfMutt collaborates with local landscapers to spruce up schools across America.

In 2015, the TurfMutt program joined with Scholastic Education, the leading global education publisher for children to provide greater access to the youth curriculum.

Today, TurfMutt is an official U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Education Partner and part of its global Learning Lab. TurfMutt has been an educational resource at the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Green Apple, the Center for Green Schools, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, the National Energy Education Development (NEED) project, Climate Change Live, Petfinder and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2017, the TurfMutt animated video series won the coveted Cynopsis Kids Imagination Award for Best Interstitial Series. The 2017-2020 Wildlife Habitat Council calendars featured TurfMutt’s personal home habitat.

Broader audience

TurfMutt moved from focusing on children’s education to also include landscape messages aimed at adults when it signed on the “pawprint line” in 2015 to appear on the Emmy-award-winning television series Lucky Dog on CBS. The TurfMutt Foundation also partners with the television show Mission Unstoppable.

“The energy and innovation in our industry are off the charts right now as America has renewed its commitment to outdoor living over the last few years,” Kiser says. “Our mission to make that outdoor life easier and more powerful aligns well with both shows.” The TurfMutt Foundation also previously partnered with the television show Ready, Set, Pet.   

In 2018, the TurfMutt Foundation doubled down on its commitment to pet rescue with the launch of the Mutt Madness pet adoption event, held at the Equip Exposition trade show in partnership with the Kentucky Humane Society. In total, Mutt Madness helped 44 dogs find their forever homes.

“Mutt Madness connects dogs needing homes with the very people who create the amazing landscapes families and their pets enjoy,” Kiser explains. “It’s a win-win.”

Since its establishment, the TurfMutt platform has been an effective way to counter threats to the managed landscape. Parade Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Good Housekeeping and other top consumer publications shared TurfMutt messaging. The National Association of Realtors interviewed Kiser several times for its radio program, and state real estate associations throughout the country share TurfMutt messaging with homeowners.

Advocating for the good of green spaces

During the height of the drought in the West, TurfMutt’s messaging centered around the benefits of a living landscape. Through extensive media relations and social media efforts, TurfMutt’s “save living landscapes” messaging percolated into community discussions and even the Los Angeles Times, the Houston Chronicle and Realtor.com.

Throughout pandemic shutdowns, TurfMutt reiterated the importance of backyards and highlighted the value of the green space right outside our doors for stress relief, socially-distanced gatherings and outdoor classroom activities.

By showcasing a new “backyarding” trend for spring of 2021 — where activities typically associated with the indoors moved outside — TurfMutt once again elevated the conversation around managed landscapes and the benefits of taking care of and using the green space around us.

And Americans’ love of backyards and outdoor living has yet to abate. In 2023, TurfMutt took it a step further by introducing the idea of “master backyarding,” which takes the outdoor space to a new level.

“The TurfMutt program has proven to be very nimble and effective at addressing the issues facing the landscape industry,” says Kiser. “From regional droughts to the pandemic and the villainization of the American lawn, we have used TurfMutt to adjust our messaging and share the many benefits of taking care of and getting out and using the green space around us.” He adds, “The TurfMutt Foundation will continue to evolve to meet whatever challenges are ahead in this arena, and we look forward to what’s next.”

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