During the last 30 years or so, it seems that emphasis on environmental issues has sometimes waxed and waned with the economy. During economic recessions, environmental issues often are relegated to the fringe as a secondary concern until better times return.
That may remain the trend in some areas and for some issues. However, based on an increasing stream of news releases from civil engineering firms, cities, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); of research reports; and of project award announcements across the nation, the recession from which we are beginning to emerge has not appreciably dimmed the focus on green infrastructure, particularly related to stormwater and wastewater. That may be in part because of increased EPA enforcement resulting in a number of costly consent agreements with large cities, but it's also because green infrastructure for stormwater management and wastewater treatment can provide long-term economic benefits when properly designed, applied, and maintained.
A recent report by the American Society of Landscape Architects, American Rivers, the Water Environment Federation, and ECONorthwest – "Banking on Green: How Green Infrastructure Saves Municipalities Money and Provides Economic Benefits Community-wide" (available at www.asla.org/stormwater) – finds that "green infrastructure solutions save taxpayer money and provide community benefits by managing stormwater where it falls." The report's findings include the following:
- Not only does green infrastructure cost less, but these practices can further reduce costs of treating large amounts of polluted runoff.
- Green infrastructure can help municipalities reduce energy expenses.
- Green infrastructure can reduce flooding and related flood damage.
- Green infrastructure improves public health by reducing bacteria and pollution in rivers and streams, which prevents gastrointestinal illnesses in swimmers and boaters.
Most civil engineers will not be surprised by these findings, but the broad agreement across disciplines – from landscape architects and environmentalists to water quality engineers and economists – suggests that green infrastructure has quickly moved from the fringe to mainstream during the last few years – in the middle of a deep recession. This also is indicated by the cooperation of the American Public Works Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Council of Engineering Companies in founding the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI; www.sustainableinfrastructure.org) and developing the Envision rating system for measuring and encouraging sustainability in civil infrastructure projects.
In an interview published in the June 2012 issue of Rebuilding America's Infrastructure magazine, a sister publication of CE News, William J. Bertera, executive director of ISI, said, "We intend to demonstrate the long-term benefits of sustainability for civil infrastructure projects and simultaneously demonstrate that sustainability is a good business decision for private industry." (Look for more information about ISI and Envision in the September 2012 issue of CE News.)
Green (infrastructure) that saves green (money) will become mainstream.