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Researching the Research

October 14, 2011 -  By

By: Jim Novak, Turfgrass Producers International – TPI

The O.J. Noer Turfgrass Research and Education Facility, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI. Photo: Jim Novak

The O.J. Noer Turfgrass Research and Education Facility, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI. Photo: Jim Novak

Landscape professionals, lawn care specialists, park district field supervisors and even sports field managers are sometimes challenged by well intentioned, but often misinformed parties, asking them to justify the resources required to maintain a natural turfgrass field or a healthy lawn. Questions often arise because getting the message out on the environmental benefits of natural turfgrass are often overshadowed by alarming headlines that grab the attention of the public — and that of key decision-makers in local, state and even the federal government.

Many educators and Green Industry professionals know that a healthy, properly maintained lawn provides substantial benefits to the environment in terms of erosion control, water purification, air purification, runoff prevention, temperature modification, energy and cost saving, oxygen generation and carbon sequestration. They also know that green expanses of turfgrass also provide substantial benefits to human health in terms of recreation, increased physical activity, reduced risk of obesity and stress reduction. And yet, they are continually asked to name or provide a source of such information.

Well, now they can.

The “Benefits of Green Space — Recent Research” report released earlier this year by The Environmental Health Research Foundation (EHRF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan scientific research foundation headquartered in Chantilly, VA, compiled a detailed report of more than 50 scientific studies from 2000 to 2010 that validate the environmental benefits of turfgrass and rebut the notion that the need for healthy, properly maintained turfgrass is only ornamental or aesthetic. The report cites primarily peer-reviewed, published studies as well as government and academic reports to document the objective basis of benefits of a healthy, properly maintained green space.

The studies in the report focus on the benefits of “turfgrass” or “turf” — terms generally associated with the broader notion of “green space,” which typically connotes such turf-related surfaces as residential lawns, commercial or institutional turf surfaces and public facilities such as parks and playing fields.

EHRF reviewed hundreds of studies using standard research criteria for each section of the report (e.g. erosion control, water purification, air purification, etc.)  The findings and the studies were reviewed using six standard research criteria:

 

  1. Impartial, objective and balanced review of the data.
  2. Adequately comprehensive review of the available data.
  3. Properly used “weight of evidence” to evaluate the data.
  4. The findings are supported by the data in the studies cited.
  5. The studies cited have been subjected to independent scientific peer review.
  6. Studies since 2000.

Scientific studies highlighted in the report include the environmental benefits of turf in erosion control; water and air purification; temperature modification; oxygen generation; and carbon sequestration. Key findings in the report concluded that:

 

  • Healthy, properly maintained green space provides substantial benefits to the environment in terms of erosion control/water purification, air purification, temperature modification/energy and cost saving, oxygen generation and carbon sequestration.
  • Green space provides substantial benefits to human health in terms of recreation/increased physical activity/reduced risk of obesity and healthcare/stress reduction.
  • This data rebuts claims that the need for healthy, properly maintained green space is only ornamental or aesthetic.
  • John Heinze, Ph.D. and researcher at the EHRF stated, “This compilation of recent, peer-reviewed research demonstrates the benefits of properly maintained green space. This should also help municipalities, government entities, schools, park authorities, developers, and residents in further valuing and enhancing the significant benefits that green space can provide to both property owners and communities alike.”

To download a PDF copy of the report, visit EHRF.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/BenefitsofGreenSpace.pdf

About the Author:

Novak is public relations manager for Turfgrass Producers International.

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