More than bricks and mortar: how green infrastructure strengthens business resilience

Using oyster reefs to fortify coastal sea defenses? Creating reed beds to treat industrial waste water? A new report by Swiss Re and industry partners shows that infrastructure made of natural habitats can greatly improve business resilience and offer reliable, cost-effective alternatives to cement and steel.

It may sound like a makeshift solution. But when a chemical company in Texas decided to forego construction of a new 40 million dollar water treatment plant and instead invest in 110 acres of wetland, it was making a deliberate choice. Not only do the marshes fulfil the same function as a conventional water purifying facility, but with a capital expense of less than 1.4 million dollars they are also a much cheaper option and friendlier to the environment.

The Texas wetlands project is just one of 20 green infrastructure initiatives showcased in a new publication by the Dow Chemical Company, Shell, Unilever, the Nature Conservancy and Swiss Re. The study shows that incorporating nature into man-made infrastructure can have far-reaching benefits for businesses seeking to minimise a range of operational risks, from mechanical failures and power outages to raw material price hikes and flooding.

"By using the goods and services we receive from nature, green infrastructure solutions are a particularly sustainable and resource-efficient way to manage risks," says David Bresch, Head Sustainability at Swiss Re. "Another advantage is that they can protect company operations against shocks which would almost certainly impair traditional grey infrastructure."

Green infrastructure often requires less capital and lower maintenance costs than infrastructure made of steel and concrete. At the same time, it provides natural habitats for wildlife, promotes greater biodiversity and offers opportunities for better engagement with local communities. For all these benefits, say the authors of the report, it should become common practice in modern infrastructure projects to consider green infrastructure solutions.

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