Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments

Expanding River-Friendly Landscaping Practices

Expanding River-Friendly Landscaping Practices to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

Sacramento County, California

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Federal Funding: $486,668
Project Timeline: February 2010 – September 2013

Project Summary

Sacramento County implemented the River-Friendly Landscaping (RFL) Program as a comprehensive approach to encourage sustainable urban landscapes, and to protect the region's threatened water supplies. The County's project incorporated GHG emissions benefits into the existing RFL framework, resulting in GHG emissions reductions and several other environmental and public health benefits. This project:

  • developed a tool for evaluating the greenhouse gas reductions that result from RFL,
  • established RFL standards for urban parks,
  • supported a "Green Gardener" training program, and
  • promoted RFL to the public, reaching a total of 527,592 households
  • completed administrative tasks and project management tasks, received technical advice from the River-Friendly Landscaping Coalition.

Sacramento County established the RFL Program to encourage the sustainable design and maintenance of urban landscapes. Four of the RFL priority areas have a direct impact on GHG emissions:

  • energy conservation
  • water conservation
  • air and water quality protection, and
  • waste reduction.

This project expanded the existing RFL program by integrating GHG impacts into the guidelines. The project first developed a simple tool to quantify the environmental and economic benefits of using RFL practices. Second, the project is developing RFL standards for park design and maintenance. Park staff received RFL training and implemented multiple demonstration projects. Third, the project supported "green collar" job training by expanding the Green Gardener training program. Finally, the project launched a promotional campaign for the public to adopt RFL practices, including outreach, workshops, a training program, and educational materials.

The project aimed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 10,350 metric tons CO2e annually through lower water consumption, and this figure is expected increase once the benefits for municipal landscapes are assessed. Other benefits include a reduction in vehicle miles traveled, reduced solid waste generation, and heat island mitigation. Additional water will also be available for hydroelectric generation as a result. The project will have long-lasting benefits, will build partnerships across multiple stakeholder groups, and will be easily replicable in other communities.

Sacramento County reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water use, and waste through greener landscape practices. Its River-Friendly Landscaping (RFL) Benefits Calculator Exit, which calculates GHG emission reductions, is available online. The County sent trainees in the Green Gardener program an online survey about the Calculator and has since incorporated trainee feedback into a refined version of the calculator. The updated Calculator was presented to landscape professionals at events in 2014. The County integrated the RFL standards for urban parks into training classes. The Turf Demonstration Project Exit was also completed. In addition, the County completed renovation of the RFL Inspiration Garden, holding a grand opening ceremony in June 2013, during which they distributed self-guided tour brochures for the garden. The County held a graduation ceremony to honor three classes of Green Gardeners, and industry leaders were invited to network with the graduates. Lastly, the County planned and promoted a program to recognize yards that demonstrate RFL principles. Additionally, the Blue Thumb Neighbors project hosted three neighborhood workshops and reached a total of 36 residents. Participants were asked about their behavior change after attending the workshop, and many participants reported positive behavior changes and mentioned using river-friendly techniques in their own lawns or gardens.  

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Community Characteristics 

Population:                                 1,381,000

Area:                                         995 square miles

Government Type:                       County

Community Type:                        Metropolitan region

Median household income:           $57,800

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Final Results

Projected Cumulative Results

Annual GHG Reductions

997 mt CO2e

10,350 mt CO2e

Participating Households



Annual Waste Reductions

14 tons

6,156 tons

Landscapers Trained



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Lessons Learned

  • The GHG reductions that were originally estimated were not achievable due to the declining housing market and other economic issues that coincided with the project’s timeline, which made landscaping less of a priority for many homeowners. Realizing this, the County revised their estimates.
  • A separate challenge was ensuring a well-balanced and integrated message among key partners in the Blue Thumb Neighbors project, which was originally created by members of Regional Water Authority (RWA) in Sacramento and did not originally cover all of the RFL principles.

Three key lessons were identified that other communities can learn from:

  • Combining forces with existing regional partnerships or programs can be cost-effective and help to streamline messages to the public.
  • Build relationships with neighborhood associations and leaders in the community to gain trust and reach a broader audience.
  • Learn from similar efforts around the country, and tailor these lessons to your region. Ask for advice from organizations or agencies that have done similar projects in the past.

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  • This project was designed with replicability and sustainability in mind. The community-based social marketing strategies were shared with other CSC communities at the 2011 CSC conference in Denver. The Benefits calculator is available online, and the RFL Inspiration Garden is still enjoyed by visitors.

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Program Websites

River-Friendly Landscaping Exit

River-Friendly Landscaping Green Gardener Training Program Exit

Turf Demonstration Project Exit

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River-Friendly contest winnerAspire to be River-Friendly contest winner
Landscape of the Aspire to be River-Friendly contest winnerLandscape of the Aspire to be River-Friendly contest winner
New plants and additional fence posts at Donna Dean GardenNew plants have been delivered and planting begins and additional fence posts were installed at Donna Dean Garden.
installation of the new drip system at Donna Dean Garden.Placement of new plants continues along with the installation of the new drip system at Donna Dean Garden.
Cardboard layer was placed over the soil to help eliminate weed growth at Donna Dean Garden.Cardboard layer was placed over the soil to help eliminate weed growth at Donna Dean Garden.
Master Gardener Training‐ Edible Landscaping WorkshopMaster Gardener Training‐ Edible Landscaping Workshop, November 29, 2012

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