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Organic lawns: it's easy being green

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Americans love their lawns - so much so that they've planted some 30 million acres of them - from the White House to the California desert.

If you lumped them all together, they could cover an area the size of Mississippi.

But concerns are rising that those lush, weed-free lawns represent an environmental hazard. The problem isn't the lawns themselves, which benefit the environment in many ways, critics say. It's the way they encourage overuse of everything from fertilizer and pesticides to water.

Such practices are coming under increasing scrutiny, not only from environmentalists but also from lawn-industry companies, which are keeping a wary eye on the amorphous, but rapidly growing, organic lawn movement.

"Lawns probably haven't risen to the level of a major national environmental issue - yet," says Paul Parker, executive vice president of the Center for Resource Management in Salt Lake City, a nonprofit environmental group that encourages collaboration among business leaders, government, and environmental groups. "But the acreage of lawns is so significant that water, pesticide use, and loss of wildlife habitat are increasingly important."

Consider:

• For the first time ever, lawn equipment, fertilizer, and pesticide industry representatives have joined with environmental groups and the Environmental Protection Agency to create a "Lawn and Environment Coalition." In March, the coalition unveiled the first-ever draft guidelines for national lawn-care practices to help Americans protect the environment while they green their lawns.

• By most accounts, the number of lawn care companies touting a natural, organic approach is rising rapidly. At least one traditional lawn care company is developing its own line of organic products - although there's no agreement on what "organic" means.

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