To Save Water, Gotland Challenged Residents to 'Ugliest Lawn' Competition

The Swedish island took a clever approach to normalizing dead grass.

winning dead lawn in Gotland, Sweden

Region Gotland

It can be hard to convince homeowners to use less water on their lawns, particularly during a hot and dry summer. But tell them it's a competition for the ugliest lawn, and suddenly they may be more willing to forgo the sprinkler. 

This clever strategy was employed by the municipal government of Gotland, Sweden's largest island located in the Baltic Sea. Gotland sees its population double during the summer months as tourists arrive. This puts pressure on the island's already-limited water supply, which is projected to decrease by 13% between 2021 and 2050, as demand is expected to rise by 40% by 2045.

The initiative, dubbed "Gotland's Ugliest Lawn," urged homeowners to compete for the saddest, deadest, brownest yard. They were asked to avoid watering for an entire season (there was an irrigation ban in effect), then post a photo of the lawn using a hashtag that linked it to the campaign. 

As described in an emailed press release, "Instead of lecturing house owners not to use unnecessary amounts of water it launched the competition Gotland's Ugliest Lawn—a fun way to change the norm of green lawns in a climate where they're not natural."

Mimmi Gibson, the acting marketing and brand manager at Region Gotland, was quoted in the Guardian, saying that "the ugliest lawn contest would remind islanders not to waste water, and to talk about ways they can adapt their gardens to suit the existing conditions and the climate crisis."

news coverage of Gotland's Ugliest Lawn competition

Region Gotland

The winner for this year was announced in mid-August, and it's Marcus Norström, who did not water his lawn once throughout the entire summer. His photo shows a large brown space, with some sparse yellow grasses sticking out—the kind of yard in which you would not want to walk barefoot for risk of hurting your feet.

The jury described it as "a really lousy lawn that lives up to all our expectations of Gotland's ugliest lawn and has good conditions for a more sustainable improvement," as well as one that demonstrates "meritorious laziness" and "great care for our common groundwater." Norström's grand prize is a visit from professional gardener Sara Gistedt, a member of the jury who will offer him advice on planting drought-resistant plants. 

It's an interesting strategy, this attempt to normalize—and even celebrate—dead grass. It is reasonable to assume that the more people see it around their communities, the more accepted it will become. They may also grow curious about alternatives to grass when they realize there are other ways to create and maintain an attractive-looking yard, even without irrigation. All too often, grass is just the default, the only thing homeowners attempt to grow because everyone else is doing it.

The municipality must be feeling pleased; its strategy has worked, and there's enough water available now for the irrigation ban to lift on September 1. Let's hope no one starts watering their lawns this late in the season.

View Article Sources
  1. "Territorial Review of Gotland, Sweden." Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development