Overall Rating Platinum
Overall Score 86.33
Liaison Lisa Kilgore
Submission Date March 1, 2024

STARS v2.2

Cornell University
IN-47: Innovation A

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 0.50 / 0.50 Sarah Carson
Director, Campus Sustainability Office
FS - Energy & Sustainability
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Name or title of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:
Cornell Botanic Gardens’ Native Lawn

A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome that outlines how credit criteria are met and any positive measurable outcomes associated with the innovation:
The native lawn demonstration project aims to create a shift in how we design and landscape our homes and public green-spaces, and ultimately advance sustainability itself. This project converted a non-native grass (and weed) lawn to a low-maintenance, low energy input, and high biodiversity, sustainable native lawn.

Our goals were focused on maintaining or even enhancing the traditional aesthetics of a turf lawn. We wanted it to be able to tolerate a moderate amount of tramping, and wanted to minimize watering, eliminate fertilizer and pesticide inputs, and require minimal hand weeding. We also wanted to significantly curtail carbon dioxide emissions by only mowing it once to twice a year. One primary measure of success was to cover at least 85% of the area with native plant species, which increases the overall biodiversity of pollinators and other fauna.

Ten species of forbs and eleven species of grasses and sedges were originally planted in 2009, and some woodland and meadow herbs have been added. Plant species were selected that are suitable for both full sun and shady as well as wet and dry conditions Danthonia spicata and Danthonia compressa (poverty oat grass) are dominant in the planting. Penstemon hirsutus is also widely planted. Twenty-nine native species have established spontaneously from the adjoining natural area or seedbank, including several violet species, woodland asters including calico, heart-leaved, and frost asters, and Lobelia siphilitica, or great blue lobelia, which is a very attractive valuable pollinator species.

The native lawn was assessed in 2023 and met all original project goals. The lawns appearance was attractive in all seasons and even remained green during drought years, while holding up well to moderate trampling. No pesticides, fertilizers or watering were needed except to control a fungal outbreak during the first year. Carbon emissions were lowered to zero after implementing mowing via a hand scythe one time per year. Both project measures of success were met; Insect biodiversity in the native lawn contained four times as many insect families than a traditional lawn, and the lawn consisted of 85% native plant cover.

A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise or a press release or publication featuring the innovation :
The website URL where information about the innovation is available :
Additional documentation to support the submission:

Data source(s) and notes about the submission:
Link to the uploaded NYT article can be found here:


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