Tips from your Lawn


It’s summer!  For many of us, that means spending time on lawns — at the park, at a friend’s, or in our own (front or) back yard. Lawns can be boring and seem quite unnatural to those of us who like to spend time out in nature, but grass is part of nature, and thus lawns have lessons to share with those of us interested in sustainable design.

Below are a few sustainable design tips you can learn from your lawn.

Cooperating is a better than competing

Many of us were taught that all relationships in nature are competitive (e.g. dog-eat-dog, pecking orders). Many of us have been taught the same thing is true in business — you need to play the game and play to win, if you’re not a winner you’re a loser, that competition yields the best results.  

Lawns will tell you otherwise. If lawns were based on competition, there would be a few big blades of grass surrounded by bare soil. Blades of grass have learned that they are better off working together, interweaving their roots, and collectively protecting and feeding the soil upon which they all depend. 

How might your design leverage or lead to cooperation, rather than competition?

Take advantage of free energy

When most designers do their work, they (logically) assume that they can take advantage of the existing manufacturing, transportation, and energy infrastructure — most of which relies on fossil fuels.

Lawns would wonder why, as they take advantage of the free energy of the sun. Not only that, because they are fully integrated into their ecosystems, they can also rely on others in their world to perform critical functions for free. For example, soil microbes consume their wastes and give them access to nutrients.

How might your design leverage or lead to the use of free or renewable energy and materials?

How might your design leverage or lead to a circular economy?

Build in resilience

Based on what we see in commercials, it is good to design products that are rugged, tough, built to last — but most of those products end up in the landfill or junk pile. They may be built to last, but the majority of their existence (maybe forever) is after their useful design life is over. They are designed to be robust, to resist disturbances and change. 

Lawns take a different approach. Although some people feel they have to baby their lawns, grass is amazingly resilient. It can be cut, stomped on, eaten, neglected, and frozen — and bounce back. Like most life on earth, your lawn survives because it incorporates cyclic processes, diversity, redundancy, decentralization, and feedback loops. It is designed to be endlessly self-regenerating.

How might your design leverage or facilitate principles of resilience, rather than resistance?

If you’d like to learn more lessons from nature and how to apply them to your designs, you might be interested in our course Biomimetic Design, which we’re offering this fall. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your summer — and appreciate the wisdom of your lawn! 

Denise DeLuca / Former Director

Denise DeLuca is the Director of MCAD’s Sustainable Design program. She was co-founder of BCI: Biomimicry Creative for Innovation, a network of creative professional change agents driving ecological thinking for radical transformation. Denise is author of the book Re-Aligning with Nature: Ecological Thinking for Radical Transformation, which was illustrated by MASD alum Stephanie Koehler. She also teaches with the Amani Institute.

Denise’s previous roles include Education Director for the International Living Future Institute, Project Manager for Swedish Biomimetics 3000, and Outreach Director for The Biomimicry Institute. Denise is a licensed civil engineer (PE) and holds a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on modeling landscape-scale surface and groundwater interactions.  In addition, Denise is a Biomimicry Fellow and a member of the Advisory Council of The Biomimicry InstituteBoard Member of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), on the editorial board of the Journal of Bionic Engineering, and an Expert with Katerva. Denise is based in Oregon.

contact:  [email protected]