It's hard to argue against the beauty of Hamilton’s campus. The colors are vibrant in the fall and the snow softly coats the trees in the winter. Hamilton has a green campus, with lawns covering large swaths of the land. But without these lawns, the school could become an even more beautiful campus. as well as one that also sustains the natural environment of upstate New York.
But Hamilton’s love of lawns is not an isolated occurrence. America is obsessed with lawns, and this obsession is creating large problems for the environment. Lawns are polluters, whose pristine aesthetic is often chosen over plants natural to the area. According to CNN, lawn “maintenance produces more greenhouse gasses than they absorb, and [lawns] are biodiversity deserts that have contributed to vanishing insect populations.”
Lawns require a significant quantity of water to maintain them, which causes problems across the country, especially in places with droughts. Though New York State is not in a drought, because of climate change, New York is becoming drier and hotter. Over the summer, much of New York State was under a drought watch, including Oneida County. The state encouraged residents to “avoid wasting water.” One way that residents would have been able to reduce their water usage would be by having plants natural to upstate New York that didn’t require as much water as grass to maintain.
Lawns are also a pollutant of CO2. They require toxic herbicides that produce carbon emissions and lawn mowers make up 5% of national toxic air pollution. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it can affect our health. Standing next to lawn mowers means inhaling the gas into our lungs, especially because maintaining a lawn can take up so much time.
Knowing this, Hamilton should want to get rid of their lawns. Fortunately, they do. Over the summer, sustainability interns worked on The Green Attributes plan, which addressed how Hamilton can convert their lawns into five types of areas that would be better for the environment.
According to Eileen Bussiere ‘25, a Hamilton Sustainability Coordinator, the summer sustainability interns surveyed different areas on campus and determined how the area should be maintained. These areas included no mow area, low mow areas, reforestation tracts, wetland and drainage systems, and pollinator systems, all created to promote a natural environment on Hamilton’s campus.
“The amount of highly maintained lawn space we have on campus is unnecessary and that’s what our project was getting at,” said Bussiere. “We don’t need to have this much grass because grass requires a lot of water in order to maintain so it’s a resource drainer…when it comes to carbon sequestration, using that much mowing supplies and the gasoline that is used is a lot for this campus.”
When the sustainability interns brought their plan to different groups on campus, they were pleasantly surprised by the support that they found.
“We didn't have any setbacks from any groups on campus,” said Bussiere. “They were all very supportive of this and understood that Hamilton is really striving for a new sense of sustainable action and initiative.”
The new sense of sustainable action that Bussiere spoke about is Hamilton’s recent commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030, as opposed to their 2017 plan to get to carbon neutrality by 2050. Bussiere believes that their Green Attributes plan will “definitely be a major step because [they] are taking into account all these agricultural pieces of land that the school owns and counts towards [its] carbon neutrality plan.” The sustainability coordinators are currently working on getting a measure of how much carbon sequestration the project will help with.
“Nature is beautiful on its own,” said Bussiere, “and it doesn't need all this intense maintenance to be beautiful.”