Corporate Landscaping Rolls Out the Wildlife Welcome Mat

When corporations rewild their landscaping, acres of lawn become greener, more wildlife-friendly and cheaper to maintain

  • By Brianna Randall
  • Habitat Gardening
  • Mar 28, 2024

At Expedia’s headquarters in Seattle (above and below), native grasses along with native and nonnative perennials provide habitat for birds, pollinators and other wildlife. A monarch butterfly feeds on native blue porterweed (bottom) at Esplanade at The Heights, a Taylor Morrison community in Florida.

BEFORE EXPEDIA BEGAN BUILDING its 5,000-person corporate office in Seattle in 2019, the 40-acre waterfront site was mostly paved in concrete. Today, the campus includes a quarter-mile-long public beach with native grasses, flowering dune plants and natural driftwood. Perennials such as wild buckwheat, native beach strawberry and seashore lupine provide habitat for coastal wildlife—from snowy plovers and black oystercatchers to coast moles and the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

Expedia is not alone. Within the past decade, many big-name corporations across the country have ripped out lawns or asphalt to rewild their properties. At its 68-year-old corporate headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, Ford, for example, restored native plants and wetlands. In Cupertino, California, Apple planted drought-tolerant native species on its campus along with 9,000 trees to absorb carbon and mitigate the urban heat-island effect. Elsewhere in Silicon Valley, Google is restoring fire-resilient oak woodlands and willow groves as well as planting native narrowleaf milkweed for monarch butterflies.

Such landscaping choices can make a big difference for wildlife and the environment. Historically, the properties surrounding headquarters buildings, manufacturing and other corporate facilities have featured large expanses of manicured turf grass dotted with beds of flowering annuals: nonnative plants that require copious amounts of water, polluting fertilizers and gas-guzzling equipment. Maintaining these nonnative landscapes also contributes to climate change: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, gas-powered lawn and garden equipment accounts for a quarter to half of all nonroad gasoline emissions, releasing 27 million tons of pollutants each year. Using one gas-powered leaf blower for just an hour generates the same emissions as driving a car from Los Angeles to Denver.

When corporations switch to native plants and sustainable practices, on the other hand, they help “restore and safeguard wildlife habitat and promote biodiversity,” says Carey Stanton, head of innovation and partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Insect Conservation, native perennials can provide pollinators up to 20 times more nectar and six times more pollen than annual or nonnative flowers.

Because native plants improve local air and water quality, rewilding corporate properties also benefits people who work there or live nearby. In addition, it may give corporations a leg up in the public eye—or in the eyes of their stockholders—when they take steps to improve habitat and reduce carbon emissions, offsetting some of their better-known negative environmental impacts.

An image of a large bioretention meadow on the Expedia HQ campus.

José Almiñana, a principal at the Philadelphia landscape architecture firm Andropogon Associates, has worked with Air Products and Sanofi Pasteur on what he calls “place-first landscapes” that heal ecosystems, in part by prioritizing native plant communities that support diverse wildlife. He says the firm has “seen a shift from traditional consumptive landscapes to productive landscapes that provide ecosystem services critical to sustain life and diversity on the planet,” particularly among corporate clients that have large footprints, such as hospitals.

Another benefit of native landscaping is that it saves corporations money on watering, weeding and mowing. After a few years, once they become established, most native plants can take care of themselves. When Hewlett-Packard, for example, converted 40 acres of Kentucky bluegrass at its Boise, Idaho, campus to drought-resilient native plants, the company reduced emissions by 90 percent and cut landscaping maintenance costs by 50 percent. By using collected stormwater to irrigate native vegetation, it also saved 82,900 cubic meters of water per year.

“At the end of the day, native landscaping is really about risk mitigation and trying to do what’s right,” says Chad Eby, corporate director of sustainability for Taylor Morrison, one of the largest homebuilders in the United States. Since 2019, the company has partnered with NWF to create more than 7,622 acres of Certified Wildlife Habitat® and 110 Natural Open Spaces™ in its housing communities.

An image of a monarch butterfly on blue porterweed.

Using the Taylor Morrison partnership as a model, NWF recently developed a process for other corporations to create certified habitats on their properties. Like all such certifications, each site will need to provide wildlife with food, water, cover and places to raise young.

NWF experts will ensure each site features native plants, conserves water and uses no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In addition, certifications will require habitat management plans and commitments to both public education and ongoing stewardship of the landscape. Says Stanton, “Our goal is to build relationships that increase biodiversity, reduce carbon and have measurable impacts for wildlife and people.” (Email to learn more.)

Brianna Randall is a science writer in Missoula, Montana. Read more about her.

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

Make Your Yard a Spray-Free Zone »
Working for Wildlife: National Wildlife Federation Teams up with Taylor Morrison »

Get Involved

Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 52 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

Learn More
Regional Centers and Affiliates