The Ugliest Lawn Competition: could this be sustainability at its “finest”?
Take a walk around your neighbourhood while it is still nice outside, and look at your neighbour’s lawns. Some are simply works of art, perfectly trimmed, bright green, not a weed in sight. It’s almost like a status symbol to have such a perfect lawn.
Although lawns may be nice to look at (depending on who you ask), they are quite unsustainable to maintain. Lawns require a huge amount of water. Many people also feed their lawns with fertilizers to help it grow faster, thicker, and greener. These fertilizers tend to have harmful chemicals which can negatively affect the health of humans and the environment. Moreover, lawns don’t provide any shelter or nutrition for pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds that help plants reproduce.
We’ve written many articles about how to make your lawns more sustainable by converting them to wildflower meadows, edible gardens, or even rock gardens. But a community in Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, has another way of getting rid of lawns and saving water – simply letting them dry—the Ugliest Lawn Competition.
For the second year in a row, the municipality of Gotland is holding a competition to find the ugliest lawn on the island. The Ugliest Lawn Competition stemmed from the irrigation bans that prevent residents from watering their lawns. The purpose of the competition is to make people aware of water shortages on the island.
It is said that water availability on the island is expected to decrease by 13% between 2021- 2050. The lack of water is a response to an influx of tourists over recent years, which has put more demand and strain on the local water supply. There has also been less rain and snow in previous years, which has reduced the amount of groundwater.
Residents on the island are encouraged to participate in the Ugliest Lawn Competition for a chance to win a consultation with an expert gardener about planting native plants instead of a decorative grass lawn.
It’s an interesting concept because people don’t have to put effort into qualifying for the Gotland Ugliest Lawn Competition. It might even encourage people to give up their lawns altogether and grow flowers or trees that will actually benefit the environment. In the first year, the Gotland Ugliest Lawn Competition initiative helped reduce Gotland’s water consumption by 5% compared to the summer of 2021.
The initiative reached over 788 million people worldwide through the promotion of Instagram, with the hashtag #worldsugliestlawn. The island of Gotland also managed to get actress and environmental activist Shailene Woodley to help promote the competition. She was featured with last year’s winner in a video to help launch the challenge. This year’s competition is open until December 2023, so you still have an opportunity to submit your ugliest lawn.
This year, the competition has expanded to seven municipalities in Sweden and three in Canada. In British Columbia, Canada, some cities are offering cash prizes for the best photo of a dry lawn. Other British Columbian cities are awarding points for using grass alternatives such as perennials or stone landscaping that requires little to no watering.
The ugliest lawn competition is a unique and fun way to make people more aware of the problems associated with the overconsumption of water. It allows people to let their lawns be and let them go brown. I can’t speak for everyone, but you would think if there are more brown yards in the neighbourhood, there might be motivation to turn these lawns into flower or vegetable gardena or another alternative that doesn’t require a lot of water. If people make these changes, we will see an improvement in our water levels and biodiversity in our cities and our neighbourhoods.