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The Green Edge: A new report on the benefits of investing in natural landscapes

Paul Davis

Posted December 17, 2013

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Protecting the quality of our urban waterways from stormwater pollution is an issue of growing concern for US municipalities.  In fact, with over 800,000 acres of land being consumed by new development each year, urban stormwater runoff is one of the largest growing contributors to the pollution of US waterways. With each new development project, a portion of our community’s natural landscape is transformed into impervious rooftops, parking lots, streets and sidewalks. These hard, impermeable surfaces increase flash flood events, flush heavy metals and sediment pollution into our local water sources, and  force the closure of our favorite water recreational areas.

Nashville GI 2.PNG

In an effort to reduce the impacts of urban stormwater runoff, cities such as Philadelphia, Nashville, Milwaukee and Seattle have begun using green infrastructure to restore the natural absorption and infiltration capacity of their urban neighborhoods. Green infrastructure practices  - such as rain gardens, green roofs,  urban tree groves and rain barrels - aim to mimic and restore nature’s ability to absorb and store water. Through redevelopment of these natural spaces in urban environments, cities across the US are aiming to more cost effectively manage stormwater runoff and improve local water quality in the face of increasing urbanization.  

While cities like Philadelphia have begun making major investments in green infrastructure in the public-right of way (e.g. roads, sidewalks, public parking lots), these municipalities recognize that in order to meet their stormwater pollution reduction goals they will also need to reduce the impervious area and runoff produced by private properties.

In an effort to entice private property owners to invest in natural spaces, a number of municipalities have begun offering stormwater bill reductions for installing green infrastructure. For example in Philadelphia property owners can receive up to 80% off their ongoing stormwater bill in return for reducing runoff with green infrastructure projects. Unfortunately, despite these incentive programs, previous studies by NRDC have found that even the most aggressive stormwater bill reductions are usually not high enough to economically motivate private property owners to invest in green infrastructure.

Fortunately, stormwater fee reductions are just a small fraction of the total package of financial benefits that accrue to property owners that invest in green spaces. In a new NRDC report, entitled The Green Edge, NRDC and Stratus Consulting present a review of all the financial benefits that could be realized by private property owners who make green infrastructure investments. The Green Edge’s compiled research findings suggest that re-investing in natural landscapes can produce up to 7% rental premiums, notable increases in retail customer spending habitats, as well as reductions in heating and cooling costs through enhanced insulation (green roofs) and shading/wind-break services (trees).

MultiFamily.jpgIn fact, when properly accounting for all the potential monetary benefits produced by green infrastructure investments - the Green Edge report finds that stormwater fee reductions may account for as little as 1-5% of the total financial gains realized by property owners who re-invest in green spaces. Moreover, through application of the full benefits accounting methodology  to hypothetical green infrastructure projects on multifamily, retail, and office building properties, the Green Edge report illustrates that when the full range of green infrastructure benefits are considered – a much stronger business case can be made for these back-to-nature investments in green assets.

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Lauren WrayDec 19 2013 02:06 PM

Hi there! Great article! I would also like to point out that pervious concrete is a great addition to green development and Low Impact Development, especially when a hard durable surface is required. Not only does pervious concrete allow the water to soak back in to the land faster, it is a cool pavement, reducing the heat island effect in heavily built up environments. Just a thought! Keep up the great work!

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