Building with nature saves costs and creates value
Money doesn’t grow on trees, but a new report shows investing in nature-based infrastructure keeps more cash in communities’ pockets while delivering big environmental and social value.
Oak Hammock Marsh, Man. – There’s a hefty strain on public budgets these days. The list of urgent investment needs is long, and infrastructure—the creation and maintenance of structures that are fundamental to a community’s economy and quality of life—often takes a top spot. But by building with nature as well as concrete, cities and towns can save money and address multiple needs at once.
It’s called nature-based infrastructure. The concept involves using natural “green” systems (such as wetlands) to deliver the services provided by traditional “grey” infrastructure (such as dry dams or water treatment systems). While conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) have been championing the practice for years, a new report led by the International Institute for Sustainable Development contains some impressive calculations that show the dollars and sense behind including green alongside grey.
The report, How Can Investment in Nature Close the Infrastructure Gap?, states that nature-based infrastructure could replace existing infrastructure for 50 per cent less money to provide the same service. Using global estimates, it goes on to say that using nature-based infrastructure would provide 28 per cent more value than grey infrastructure, equal to $489 billion USD.
“Traditional built infrastructure typically addresses only one issue, but natural systems like wetlands do much more,” says Dave Howerter, DUC’s chief conservation officer. “We’re proud to be working with communities across the country to conserve and restore wetlands that provide essential services like water filtration, flood mitigation and protection from coastal erosion. At the same time, this natural infrastructure is sequestering carbon, supporting wildlife and providing green space for recreation.”
The bottom line? Nature-based infrastructure delivers big value with multiple economic, environmental and social benefits.
“Many Canadians aren’t aware of the critical role Ducks Unlimited Canada plays in conserving and restoring wetlands and other natural habitats for purposes beyond wildlife protection and recreational use,” says Larry Kaumeyer, DUC’s chief executive officer. “Our approach of partnering with private and public sectors to deliver innovative natural solutions in communities across Canada has never been more important.”
A recent example of DUC’s nature-based infrastructure efforts exists in southern Ontario, in the densely populated regions surrounding Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Here, DUC is delivering approximately 60 wetland projects to improve water quality, support climate resiliency, mitigate flood risk and generate local economic activity. It’s estimated that this habitat, spanning more than 1,000 hectares, will provide $4.2 million in avoided flood damages.
If you add up the value associated with all the habitat that DUC manages across the country, the figures become even more impressive. The total economic value of the 2.7 million hectares of wetlands and other natural habitats under DUC’s care is estimated to be $5.66 billion CDN annually. This includes more than $1.65 billion in climate regulation and $1.01 billion in water purification services.
The report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development also estimated that 11.4 per cent of the world’s infrastructure needs can be met with nature-based infrastructure—a swap that could generate additional benefits worth up to $489 billion USD every year.
While nature-based infrastructure is not a silver-bullet solution to the environmental and economic challenges we face, strong investments in the conservation and restoration of natural areas like wetlands will make a meaningful difference. Because healthy landscapes are essential to the places that we all call home.
Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) is the leader in wetland conservation. A registered charity, DUC partners with government, industry, non-profit organizations and landowners to conserve wetlands that are critical to waterfowl, wildlife and the environment. www.ducks.ca
Ducks Unlimited Canada