There is a growing urgency to change attitudes. This year’s International Day for Biodiversity reminds us that declining global biodiversity impacts us all – it affects crop production, agriculture and fishing, and damages the delicate balance we need for a stable future.
Driven by economic factors, increasing awareness and legal changes, the current focus on biodiversity means we need to take a fresh look at the business case for ecological engineering investment and our designs and solutions for the challenges around water, cities, infrastructure and industry.
We must build on the momentum created by awareness initiatives and recent IPCC reports to demonstrate how ecological approaches can benefit our biodiversity as well as our social well-being and sustainable competitive business cases.
Natural Processes – Financially and Legally Viable
There is a growing recognition that nature can be a source of inspiration for industrial production. But is nature and natural design cost-effective? Ecologist Jasper Fiselier: “If you want a concept to be adopted and a project to be legally compliant and successful, you have to work with nature. In highly dynamic environments like coasts and rivers for example, the investment in natural design approaches pays off in the long-term – not least because the subsequent maintenance programme is frequently cheaper to implement.
“Nature can become a capital asset where it adds more than environmental value. Ecological processes that benefit biodiversity are often attractive as engineering services in relieving long-term budget pressure and boosting the perceived value of our built environments.”
The Education and Policy Gap
But there is a gap. We need our engineering graduates to be more aware of biodiversity and how different disciplines work together. Water and Nature Consultant Bernadette Botman says: “We tackle a growing number of projects in a highly integrated way. From assessment to design, we ensure our ecologists are involved at every stage to benefit our thinking and increase the sustainability and value of our projects.
“But we feel that more work is needed at the graduate level to aid inter-disciplinary understanding. If we want nature to be on the table at concept stage, our universities and engineering institutes need to work harder to promote and integrate biodiversity and ecology at the graduate level. Improved, integrated education can only help advise better, more sustainable – and more commercially viable – projects.”
And it’s not only education. Often, our policy and legal regulations lag behind too; especially where innovation is considered state-of-the-art, as regulators often consider new innovation as a liability.
From industrial and urban development to agriculture and water retention, pressure to balance economic growth with biodiversity is intense. We must work better together with our clients, our educators, specialists, the government, communities and other stakeholders to minimise biodiversity destruction and actively promote natural processes and ecological networks.
Biodiversity – The Immediate Future
In 2014, nearly halfway through the United Nations’ decade-long focus on Biodiversity, we need to do more than treat biodiversity as a tick-box exercise in infrastructure and building projects. Our top five actions for the immediate future are to:
Make the shift from biodiversity compliance assessment to design optimisation in order to ensure ecological design plays a key role at the start of every discussion.
Influence academia to help integrate biodiversity and natural engineering processes at the graduate level and aid student’s understanding of the value of an inter-disciplinary approach.
Better demonstrate how industry is highly dependent on ecosystem services and what impact this has on biodiversity and the circular economy.
Continue to exploit trends in order to advise and provide innovative solutions that boost a biodiversity enhancing economy. We must strengthen society’s ability to understand the importance and value of our biodiversity in relation to engineering projects.
Broaden the scope of Return on Investment to better – more comprehensively – value biodiversity and ecosystem services. Like Salles’ 2011 study, we should recognise that the total value of our biodiversity is infinite.
(Persbericht mei 2014)