The Value of Green Infrastructure
“The Value of Green Infrastructure” provides a framework to help communities measure and value the air quality, energy use, and many other benefits that green infrastructure provides. It allows communities to more accurately compare different infrastructure investments and choose the option that provides the greatest long-term benefit.
Green Infrastructure for the present and the future
Communities across the country are struggling to deal with the rising costs of controlling stormwater runoff and sewer overflows. Crumbling infrastructure and the expansion of hard surfaces such as pavement and roofs are sending polluted stormwater and sewage into surrounding waterways with increasing frequency. A changing climate defined by more severe storms will only increase this burden.
In the face of these challenges, many communities are embracing a new approach to managing runoff that focuses on capturing rainfall and preventing it from polluting surrounding waterways. By using green infrastructure techniques such as green roofs, rain gardens, tree planting, and permeable pavement, they are managing stormwater problems at a lower cost and realizing a wide range of other benefits from reduced air pollution, energy use, and urban heat island effect to improved wildlife habitat and aesthetics. These techniques also provide defenses against more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, and flooding that a changing climate is bringing to many urban areas. Green infrastructure is a powerful tool for managing existing problems and preparing for the future.
Challenges to green infrastructure implementation
One of the key barriers to more widespread adoption of green infrastructure has been our failure to value the full range of benefits it provides. Many green infrastructure technologies have been developed fairly recently, and there has not been adequate study to detail how these systems benefit communities and the environment. It is even more difficult to translate these benefits into a dollar figure to compare them to alternatives. Adding to this challenge is the fact that benefits are very location-specific, and it often takes expensive studies to determine how green infrastructure would function in a given locale.
Evaluating the benefits of green infrastructure in your community
With this new guidebook, the Center for Neighborhood Technology and American Rivers have, for the first time, pulled together the existing research on green infrastructure benefit valuation and developed a framework that will allow local communities to assess the local benefits of green infrastructure. The guidebook outlines a methodology for measuring and valuing the improvements in air quality, energy savings, carbon sequestration, and other areas. These benefits are above and beyond the stormwater control benefits, which are assumed to be equal to a similar investment in gray infrastructure. This guide will allow communities to make more educated investments in infrastructure for the future by helping them evaluate the full range of benefits from sustainable approaches to water management.
The guidebook also identifies areas where additional research is needed or where more detailed analysis of local hydrology or other factors is needed to make an educated assessment of a particular benefit. Many of the estimates in this guide remain preliminary and are likely much more valuable than we have indicated. However, by providing even a rough estimate of the added benefits green infrastructure provides over traditional alternatives, this guidebook takes an important first step toward a more balanced assessment of green infrastructure’s potential to make communities more livable and less vulnerable to climate change.