Can HOAs change their ways and become eco-leaders?


by Susan
The great conference call took place last week between garden bloggers and writers (in the person of yours truly) and the trade association representing the nation’s 30,000 homeowner and community associations.  Also on the call were representatives of Project Laundry List (who enlisted the participants), the National Resources Defense Council and New American Dream.  (The American Planning Association wanted to be there but couldn’t, we were told.)

Representing the Community Association Institute was Andrew Fortin, VP for Government and Public Affairs.  He told us they’re mounting a 2 or 3-year program to:

  • Take "pro-active steps" to encourage adoption of sustainable practices and rules by their members.
  • Have homeowner associations rise up as a marketplace response to the failure of governments in this area.
  • Start a dialogue with environmental groups to exchange information and expertise.
  • Identify ways for members to build consensus for moving toward sustainable rules and practices.

Sounds promising.  And how do they plan to do all that?  Among other ideas, they’ll have a "green community" section on their website that’s user-friendly with lots of good info, maybe a carbon footprint calculator for communities, etc.  It’ll contain a menu of choices and best practices.  They’ll be using their other communication vehicles, like their national and regional conferences, their national
publications, and webinars.  Green topics will be the focus on their national conference in 2009, as it was for the recent conference of their Canadian counterpart.  (So Canada’s at least two years ahead of the U.S. on yet another environmental initiative.)  CAI has chapters and legislative committees in 28 states, including all the "square ones" out West.  Andrew’s background is in community governance and consensus-building and I must say those skills were evident even during our phone call.


  • Andrew specifically mentioned such important-to-us items as composting, xeriscaping, and water conservation. 
  • Some new communities (like Kiawah Island, SC) are out in front of the pack, even hiring their own environmentalists.
  • College campuses are competing for who can save the most energy.

Here’s a thought.  "Environmentalism" is SO mainstream – and government response SO lame – that if this project delivers on its promises, homeowner associations may end up actually taking the lead and setting a good example for local municipalities to get those really backward laws off their books.

Next, Andrew will be sending us a list of folks they’re reaching out to for help, asking for our input.  I told him the gardenbloggers would be happy to contribute their collective 2 cents.

Lise Mahnke, a landscape designer and Master Gardener in Denver, sent me this link to her rant about homeowner associations and this one to the story of how forces came together to change the situation in Denver.  In 2002 an actual law was passed there that outlaws mandatory turfgrass rules.  As Lise notes, what a shame that it wasn’t retroactive. 


  1. I might be optimistic. One of the most visible offenders, the HOA of the Austin suburb “Circle C Ranch” recently saw the light (or were shoved into it kicking and screaming). They were the kind of HOA that demanded green lawns even during drought and city water restrictions. As part of an agreement with the City of Austin, “the Association made a commitment to develop and promote the best environmental landscape practices on the commons areas and throughout the Circle C Ranch. Circle C Landscape LLC, as landscape services provider for the Association, developed a new landscape model that put environmental, conservation and water quality issues first. ”

    Read more:

    In summary they went native and then cooed to the local paper that, gee, the savings in water and maintenance were phenomenal. Big win-win.

  2. Our town has its own electric producing plant. When the demeand for electricity is extremely high, the city has to buy electricity from another supplier to supplement. They have a clause in the billing that they can surcharge. There was much howiing and growling with the latest billing, so the city sent out a notice explaining why the cost was high and how you can help by…and then they listed the ususal ways to save on electricity. One was to use your clothes line. Yet the city allows new subdivisions within their corporation limits to have covenents that say no clothes lines.

  3. One can only hope. As an active member of PLANET, the national landscape association, and as the champion of a “greener” green industry within the association, the story I always get from the more reluctant members regarding greening their business is “if my clients wanted organic gardens, Id be happy to sell it to them”. Any movement that increases consumer awareness of how much more eco-friendly landscape practices could be if they would ask for it has got my thumbs up.

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