Photo: Urban forest in Vancouver by Cecil Konijnendijk
Photo: Cecil Konijnendijk

If you are linked to the world of sustainability or your work deals with environmental themes, you have undoubtedly heard of the term Nature-based Solutions (NBS). However, for those not involved in these sectors, the term might be a little bit foggy. 

The European Commission has recently defined them as “Solutions that are inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience”. Furthermore, “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.”

This definition may sound very sophisticated, or even vague, but the reality is that nature-based solutions are not something new and we are more than surrounded by them. In fact, we have lived with (and survived thanks to) them since we existed as a species.

What are Nature-based Solutions?

Nature-based Solutions (NBS) are nothing more than the ways in which we rely on “nature” to solve our daily challenges, as individuals, organizations, and as a society. Currently, many economic sectors use Nature-based Solutions, often without knowing they are doing so. One of the most common examples is using forests as carbon dioxide sinks to mitigate the effects of climate change, create habitat sites for many species, and protect our biodiversity.

But other sectors of our society also use Nature-based Solutions in their daily operations. For example, public service companies providing drinking water and sewage treatment services are increasingly implementing the restoration of wetlands as natural solutions for water phytoremediation. This is a process in which plants retain nutrients and the organic load of wastewater, improving its quality when it is discharged into rivers and water bodies.

Also the agriculture sector continues to innovate, for example by developing alternatives to fertilizers from fossil fuel extraction and considering “natural” options such as the so-called bio-charcoals. The bio-charcoals is a byproduct of burning bones and remains of animals that are not used in the meat industry, which are incinerated and contain a high amount of nutrients that serve as crop fertilizer.

Finally, in terms of land and city planning, recent studies have shown how urban green has been a strong – and silent – ally in combating contemporary illnesses as widespread as depression and anxiety, showing another clear example of nature-based solutions.

Nature-based Solutions to face societal challenges

What is needed today is to understand how to include Nature-based Solutions in different sectors of the economy and society, where traditional infrastructure approaches – also called gray infrastructure – have been used, often at the expense of “natural” areas”. NBS are expected to play an essential role in complementing and, in some cases, replacing that excess gray infrastructure. Indeed, together with population growth and unlimited use of resources, the excess of gray infrastructures today takes its toll on us in the form of climate change, increased risk of disasters, loss of biodiversity and other societal challenges we are facing.

Nature-based Solutions have several characteristics in their favour since their implementation provides multiple benefits simultaneously for different sectors of society. For example, when a strategy such as wetlands restoration is carried out to improve the regulation of hydrological flows in an area, it not only helps achieve this objective but it is also generates or strengthens other benefits, such as an increase in the stock of fish, the improvement of water quality through phytoremediation, or providing habitats with biodiversity and aesthetics benefits.

On the other hand, the development of Nature-based Solutions is based on participatory planning processes, with the involvement of local actors from various economic sectors. These processes allows the generation of social and political benefits – such as good governance – and fair distribution of costs and benefits among different actors in the territory. That is why it is crucial that the implementation of NBS becomes the rule, not the exception: Nature-based Solutions must be part of our new business as usual.

Nature-based Solution in Carmignano di Brenta

How to mainstream NBS?

First, we need key sectors, such as urban development, public services provision, and agriculture, to start consolidating these solutions in their day-to-day work and include their stakeholders to grasp the maximum shared value in their actions.

Some of the main barriers that still persist to Nature-based Solutions implementation involve finding adequate funding mechanisms. Most of the benefits generated by NBS are of “public” nature, and it is not easy to charge users who benefit from them. Another barrier  is that their multi-benefit nature sometimes collides with the traditional sectoral approaches of public administration, which are segmented and divided and often create a tunnel vision that does not allow to see connections with other sectors.

Some of the pathways to Nature-based Solutions mainstreaming relate to showing in current languages ​​(e.g., data, risk exposure, financial terms) the net benefits they can bring to society, both as a whole and to each sector. These benefits can be manifested – among others – in terms of cost-efficiency, risk mitigation, and reduction of CO2 emissions.

Etifor strongly supports the use of Nature-based Solutions and is involved in different projects that aim to incorporate NBS to address some of today’s main challenges, such as water, energy, and food security or the role of urban green to fight climate change, improve wellbeing and health, and support the green transition. If you are a practitioner, a decision-maker, or represent critical sectors such as agriculture, energy production, or water management, Etifor can support you in integrating the Nature-based Solutions approach into your daily work . Through the economic evaluation of costs and benefits, identification and comparison of potential measures, and research for possible funding, Etifor can help mainstream Nature-based Solutions adoption to favor organizations, economic sectors, and our society.

If you are interested in the subject and want to know more about how we are already helping mainstream Nature-based Solutions adoption, follow our projects and contact us!