This blog post was written by Victoria Thwaitees as part of the Spring 2018 UGA Urban Ecology class.
Green infrastructure is a growing phenomenon in urban development across the nation. It is a sustainable integration of landscape architecture and ecology to create a better flow of materials and elements through a system. Green infrastructure initiatives enhance community safety and way of life. It can cultivate a vibrant community with economic benefits for a resident, business and the community at large (American Rivers, n.d.).
What is green infrastructure?
Green infrastructure can be defined in many ways. It is commonly used to solve urban and climate challenges. From a water management perspective, it is an approach that mimics and protects the natural water cycle in the existing system (American Rivers, n.d.). American Rivers classifies the variety of green infrastructure solutions on different scales. From a local level, examples can include rain gardens, permeable pavements, green roofs, infiltration planters and rainwater harvesting systems. On a larger scale, solutions include the preservation and restoration of natural landscapes.
What are some financial benefits of green infrastructure?
A green roof covers a roof with vegetation that has aesthetic and functional benefits (Adler, 2016). It can reduce energy use by improving the insulation properties of the roof, ultimately cooling down the building and cutting heating and air costs (Adler, 2016). It can also improve the life of the roof by 2-3 times that of a regular roof. The roof reduces physical stresses and blocks extreme heat, sunlight and precipitation, so the roof lasts much significantly longer (Adler, 2016). There is a reduction in the expense for storm water management systems, because the green roof is the first point of contact of the rain. The soils capture the rain, filter it, and releases less water to go downstream. Credits exist in to promote installing them to reduce the size and cost of storm drains (Adler, 2016).
“When it rains, it pours”. Flooding is a problem experienced across the nation causing serious economic and environmental costs. Hurricanes are an extreme example of this costing billions to American taxpayers to recover sunken towns. As commercial development increases with hard impervious surfaces like roadways, parking lots and rooftops, the storm water cannot naturally seep into the ground and creates dangerous floods of runoff (Henry, 2015). Permeable pavements mimic natural water flow by capturing, infiltrating and storing storm water where it falls to create a safer approach to water management and reducing costs. Local grassroots greening movements in communities have worked together to create “green streets” through the support of EPA’s Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns collaborative (Henry, 2015).
Preservation of natural resources:
Investing in Nature by the Defenders of Wildlife covers the various economic benefits of conserving natural areas. Nature is a natural asset, and it is difficult to put a price on the priceless with its existence value. There are, however, several numerical money generators from natural landscapes. Tourism is a massive employment sector in many regions bringing in wealth and jobs to local economies from travelers willing to spend. Florida’s tourism sector is the top employer creating 20% of the state’s economy. Recreation similarly benefits local economies through purchases to go kayaking, fishing, birdwatching, hunting, camping, etc. The agricultural health of a community ultimately affects many industries related to the farm, forest and sea. These “rural” industries will affect the supplies produced for an urban population. Our everyday conveniences like groceries, paper and water are all tied to the environment ultimately impacting the financial wellbeing of our homes and jobs (Defenders of Wildlife, 2004).
How does Sustainability relate?
This special type of infrastructure creates sustainability in the community. Sustainability is commonly defined in its ecological context where the maintenance of natural resources is necessary to balance and conserve in an ecosystem. However, the Triple Bottom Line model says that true sustainability is created through the integration of social, economic, and environmental efforts (Hall & Slaper, 2011). Social is classified as anything pertaining to people’s wellbeing. Economics relates to the financial influence and status of the distribution and consumption of goods and services. The environment relates to the ecology and wellbeing of the Earth. These three perspectives interact with one another to create a better local community, state, and world.
Businesses also use the Triple Bottom Line model to evaluate their operational performance. Consumers are trending toward the preference of buying from more sustainable companies. The three key factors are People, Planet and Profit, also known as the 3Ps (Hall & Slaper, 2011). Profit is measured in dollars, but it can be difficult to put a price on people’s lives and the Earth’s wellbeing. There is no universal standard for measuring the Triple Bottom Line, but businesses can choose to incorporate it as seen fit. The Planet, or environmental measures, should reflect the businesses consumption of natural resources like air, energy, materials and land. It should also consider the short and long-term effects on waste, health and depletion of resources (Hall & Slaper, 2011). The People, or social measures, considers how people are affected in the health, well-being, quality of life and social capital (Hall & Slaper, 2011. So, when a business implements a green infrastructure initiative, they will consider its inputs and outputs in their Triple Bottom Line. Ideally, the business will benefit financially from this implementation, and the community will too as businesses thrive and drive the economy.
What are the costs and benefits of green infrastructure implementation?
The EPA analysis on The Economic Benefits of Green Infrastructure demonstrates how accounting for these various benefits can provide a better holistic perspective of the action. A cost benefit analysis is typically done before various projects are implemented in government and businesses to see if the investment will pay off. Green infrastructure has the potential to do the same, and typically they have a positive benefit to cost ratio over the long term. This means that while there are some investments needed to create a green system, there are many benefits that are reaped afterwards.
The costs will include initial construction in addition to life cycle costs like maintenance and operation. However, these economic costs are great in generating social and environmental change. This is how the three pillars of sustainability work together! Green infrastructure creates jobs in various sectors like landscaping, engineering, building and design. It can also save money in various way which translates to more money for the communities (US EPA, 2017).
What are the ecological benefits?
What groups are invested in supporting your green infrastructure goals?
The EPA released the following statement about the Green Infrastructure Collaborative:
“On October 8, 2014, EPA joined with other federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private-sector entities to form the Green Infrastructure Collaborative, a network-based learning alliance created to help communities more easily implement green infrastructure. The Green Infrastructure Collaborative includes more than 20 academic, nongovernmental, and private sector organizations committed to advancing the implementation of green infrastructure strategies. The collaborative will build capacity for implementing green infrastructure practices by providing a platform for national stakeholders to:
- Leverage joint efforts to publicize the multiple community benefits of green infrastructure,
- Build and share knowledge around emerging green infrastructure technologies and policy issues, and
- Facilitate shared inquiry into the best ways to encourage adoption of green infrastructure technologies at the community level.”
(US EPA, 2011)
If you are interested in learning more about green infrastructure, visit the links below.
For More Information:
The Guide aims to inform decision-makers about the multiple benefits of green infrastructure, and to provide a generalized method for estimating the value of proposed investments.
How Green Infrastructure in Parks Can Lead to Community Empowerment
Adler, D. (2016, April 22). Financial benefits of a green roof – BSA Lifestructures. Retrieved from https://www.bsalifestructures.com/financial-benefits-of-a-green-roof
American Rivers, & Center for Neighborhood Technology. (2010). The Value of Green Infrastructure. Retrieved from http://americanrivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Value-of-Green-Infrastructure.pdf
A Simple Explanation of the Triple Bottom Line | University of Wisconsin. (2018, February 22). Retrieved from https://sustain.wisconsin.edu/sustainability/triple-bottom-line/
Defenders of Wildlife. (2004). Investing in Nature. Retrieved from https://defenders.org/publications/investing_in_nature.pdf
Green Infrastructure Collaborative | US EPA. (2017, December 11). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/green-infrastructure/green-infrastructure-collaborative
Green Infrastructure Cost-Benefit Resources | US EPA. (2017, September 26). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/green-infrastructure/green-infrastructure-cost-benefit-resources
Hall & Slaper (2011). The Triple Bottom Line: What Is It and How Does It Work? Retrieved from
Henry, J. (2015, March 19). The Promise of Permeable Pavement. Retrieved from https://blog.epa.gov/blog/2015/03/the-promise-of-permeable-pavement/
What is Green Infrastructure? | American Rivers. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.americanrivers.org/threats-solutions/clean-water/green-infrastructure/what-is-green-infrastructure/