Applying social science towards the reduction of nutrient losses from lawn care practices in New England: advancing the principles of community based social marketing

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Gagnon, Brian R.
New England is experiencing high rates of land conversion from traditionally rural land uses to residential and commercial development. Landscapes once dominated by forests and agriculture are now being subdivided and converted into "exurbs." Along with this style of urbanization comes an increase in the amount of managed turf, or lawns, in the landscape. Lawn care has been identified as a major source of non-point pollution that is a contributor of excess nutrients in many water bodies, both coastal and inland. Despite concerns with algal blooms, hypoxia and a host of other water pollution concerns related to nutrient losses from turf management there have been relatively few changes in home lawn fertilization practices over the past 30 years. A multi-state, interdisciplinary team comprised of environmental scientists, social scientists and Cooperative Extension members was formed to develop an outreach and education program that will reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous from lawn care that is a major source of pollution in many of New England's urbanizing watersheds. To achieve project goals social science research using 52 in-depth interviews with turf care experts who work with the public and a random sample survey of New England residents was used by the interdisciplinary team to understand the current drivers of today's lawn fertilizing practices. Social science provides a valuable perspective for developing effective means for changing behaviors affecting non-point source pollution from lawns. Using the principles of Community Based Social Marketing and a modified form of the Theory of Planned Behavior as a framework to guide research and the production of outreach, the findings reported here indicate that sources of information used by people performing lawn care are not entirely aligned with their needs and goals. This document reports these findings and the specific outreach messages developed from them that can be used to reduce lawn care pollution in New England.