A new report pinpoints the financial and social value of using nature-based features in real estate, drawing on both research and individual case studies.
The report, The Value of Urban Nature Based Solutions, helps developers, asset owners and design teams quantify the benefits of features like green roofs and open spaces.
A lack of awareness of the benefits has meant that real estate has historically undervalued these features, the UKGBC argues in the report. Much of the report focuses on the steps developers and other decision-makers need to take when calculating the value of NBS. But it also makes the case for doing so in the first place.
Why do NBS matter?
Nature-based solutions – cost-effective features inspired and supported by nature, which provide environmental, social and economic benefits – are necessary in the fight against both climate change and biodiversity loss.
These features “offer a means of adapting to the impacts of climate change, whilst protecting and enhancing biodiversity, and acting as carbon sinks in some circumstances”, the report says.
Important as that is, what real motivation does real estate have for incorporating NBS?
The report identifies three types of drivers:
- Policy: a growing number of local, national and international regulations are forcing real estate to confront the issue. These range from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures requirements on climate risk management to city-specific policies such as London’s Urban Greening Factor targets or New York’s Local Law 97.
- ESG: companies have to meet and exceed corporate ESG commitments. They also need to reduce exposure of assets and operations to physical climate risks, while maintaining their reputations.
- Value creation: lasting social value, direct and indirect financial benefits to shareholders and rising asset value off the back of certifications such as WELL and BREEAM are all considerations.
What are some examples of NBS?
- Sustainable drainage systems
- Green roofs and walls
- Green spaces and urban parks
What are the benefits?
- Air quality: NBS can trap particles and filter pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide
- Carbon storage and sequestration: using organic material, NBS can sequester carbon in varying amounts
- Water quantity and quality: NBS can retain or slow the flow of rain/surface water, thereby reducing strains on drainage systems. Green features can also maintain or increase the quality of water
- Temperature: Shading and evaporative cooling can help combat the urban heat island effect and maintain comfortable temperatures
- Energy use: Green features can add insulation to roofs and walls, while lowering energy demands
- Health and wellbeing: Being around green space can have positive health benefits, such as stress reduction
- Noise: Organic surfaces absorb more noise than “grey infrastructure”
- Land and property value: Buildings with NBS or close to nature are expected to retain their value and sell for higher prices than other buildings
- Amenity: Access to recreation and leisure space, health and wellbeing
- Biodiversity: Enhanced biodiversity by providing habitats for plants and animals
- Local economic health: More attractive places bring in more customers
- Community benefits: Places like parks can act as community hubs
Alastair Mant, the organisation’s director of business transformation, says: “UKGBC’s report seeks to challenge the dominant narratives surrounding urban NBS delivery, providing a broader framing of its benefits, beneficiaries, and value that underpins a more holistic business case.”
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What about financial savings?
According to the Office for National Statistics, green and blue infrastructure lead to a 0.5-3.5% uplift in property value.
One of the UKGBC’s case studies is Legal & General’s 445 Hammersmith Road, which incorporates terraces, gardens and an urban park that “actively encourages” the local community into the building. L&G reported a £5 per sq ft increase in value due to access to outside air across its portfolio – a figure the report expects to rise in the wake of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Stockport Interchange redevelopment saved £116,000 with the use of an “extensive” blue-green roof. The feature avoided the need for deep digging in contaminated soil to install a storm attenuation tank.