The European Commission identifies nature-based solutions (NBS) such as green buildings as solutions “inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience. Such solutions bring more, and more diverse, nature and natural features and processes into cities, landscapes and seascapes, through locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions. Nature-Based Solutions therefore provide multiple benefits for biodiversity.”
While many cities in Europe have started to invest in nature-based solutions such as urban parks or city tree schemes, little is known about the level of private sector awareness and investment in nature-based solutions. Given the increasing population growth in cities and the continued demand for new housing development and retail centres, at the 2021 TNOC Festival, we organised a plenary dialogue session asking, “How do we activate the construction sector in mainstreaming nature-based solutions?”
We know from research in the UK and Switzerland that well designed green roofs can contribute to biodiversity with wildflower roofs being particularly attractive for insects and pollinators such as bees (Livingroofs.org). However while the market for green buildings is growing rapidly in some parts of Europe it is lagging behind in others. Rodolphe Deborre, Director of Innovation and Sustainable Development at the French construction giant Rabot Dutilleul pointed out that in France the construction sector lacks knowledge and therefore trust in nature-based solutions. In an industry traditionally driven by price there are many questions: how much will nature cost in the short and long term? Will the client pay extra for nature? How effective are NBS? Are they allowed under current regulations? In an industry driven for centuries by hard engineering and physics, there is little knowledge of ecology or nature and therefore little trust in it.
In contrast in Austria, the government has played an important role in stimulating both demand and supply for green buildings. Over 550 businesses are active in this sector supported by strong and supportive government policy including market incentives and a mobile outreach programme (MUGLI) which introduces people to a vivid first-hand experience of greening buildings. A climate certification scheme managed by Grünstattgrau (the national competence centre for green buildings) is in place which developers can use to demonstrate market leadership. In Austria this kind of certification is seen as a competitive advantage —certified companies are industry front-runners. Research shows that they can charge 8% more for buildings with green infrastructure so there’s a strong business case for investment.
But the changes needed go deeper than policy support and market incentives. Systemic change is needed throughout the education and innovation system to generate a new breed of architect, developer and investor who know as much about ecology as they do about engineering and business. Researchers can provide vital support—proving the effectiveness of nature-based solutions and helping to reduce costs with new technologies. Unfortunately this kind of systemic change takes time. And with the current pace of climate change and biodiversity loss, time is not on our side. In the immediate short term, industry pioneers are needed to show leadership and demonstrate that NBS can work. Where the leaders go, others will follow…
The retail sector can play an important leadership role working with urban planners to envisage new city districts co-created with communities in mind. Johanna Cederlöf of IKEA explained how IKEA developed the plans for their new building at Vienna Westbahnhof in close cooperation with the local community. The community wanted more nature so the IKEA building was designed as a park which people can access even without coming into the store. IKEA have taken a similar community co-creation approach in other cities opening up green roofs to citizens in London, putting football pitches for the community on the roof in Eindhoven and public playgrounds on the roof in Utrecht. The possibilities are endless. Will other retailers and developers follow these examples and re-examine the possibility of green buildings—for communities and for biodiversity?
This article was originally featured as part of The Nature of Cities Global Roundtable