Widespread tree planting and climate-appropriate landscaping offer substantial environmental benefits. Trees and vegetation control erosion, protect water supplies, provide food, create habitat for wildlife, and clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) estimates that urban America has 100 million potential “tree spaces” (i.e., spaces where trees could be planted). NAS further estimates that filling these spaces with trees and lightening the color of dark, urban surfaces would result in annual energy savings of 50 billion kilowatthours—25% of the 200 billion kilowatthours consumed every year by air conditioners in the United States. This would reduce electric power plant emissions of carbon dioxide by 35 million tons (32 million metric tons) annually and save users of utility-supplied electricity $3.5 billion each year (assuming an average of $0.07 per kilowatt-hour).
Also, some species of trees, bushes, and grasses require less water than others. Some species are naturally more resistant to pests, so they require less pesticides. Another alternative to pesticides is integrated pest management,an emerging field that uses least-toxic pest control strategies. One example is to introduce certain insects such as praying mantises or ladybugs to feed on—and limit populations of—landscape-consuming pests.
Certain grasses, such as buffalo grass and fescue, only grow to a certain height— roughly 6 inches (15 centimeters) and are water thrifty. By using these species, you can eliminate the fuel, water, and time consumption associated with lawn mowing, watering, and trimming. Also, recent studies have found that gasoline-powered mowers, edge trimmers, and leaf blowers contribute to air pollution.
Landscaping may be your best long-term investment for reducing heating and cooling costs.