Turning Grey to Green – Sustainable Infrastructure is Affordable

As I commute to and from work, I wonder how I can use my job as a civil engineer to reduce the negative impacts of development and infrastructure. I am always looking for ways to help communities meet the sustainability triple bottom line of social, economic and environmental.   

As my clients work to replace their traditional “grey” infrastructure I routinely investigate options to do so with a greener approach. Typically the biggest obstacle to overcome is that it’s too expensive. While there is little doubt of the benefits to social and environmental elements, concerns with the economic element of the project often lead the agency to construct more traditional improvements.   

However, recent studies indicate that sustainable infrastructure does not have to be more expensive. A new study found that of the green infrastructure projects investigated, the majority of projects turned out to be just as affordable – and sometimes even more so – than traditional “grey” infrastructure.

By allowing natural processes to take over, operations and maintenance costs decrease. Essentially, returns on the project from the social and environmental aspects deliver results that reduce the economic burden.

For example, a “green street” for example might include the installation of pervious pavements for parking areas, sidewalks, and travel lanes, and incorporating bio-retention treatments into areas such as tree lawns, sidewalks, and curb extensions in the public right of way. A green street also increases green space, creates natural habitats and provides a more pleasing streetscape that may drive economic development and encourage private participation in maintenance efforts.

Though the upfront costs of projects like these can be high, this report shows that taking even a slightly long-term view of their benefits can greatly reduce infrastructure costs overall. This is encouraging news – that the industry is making progress towards the ultimate sustainability goal of addressing all three elements of the triple bottom line.


  1. jmuszalski says:

    Good points in your blog. Usually anything “green” quickly becomes associated with a higher cost. I wrote a blog on green infrastructure a few months back that lines up: http://news.capaccio.com/2012/03/23/is-green-infrastructure-an-effective-solution/

    • Andrea Pakulski says:

      Thanks for the info. I used to live and work in Boston and that Big Dig greenspace is gorgeous! Wish everywhere could have green space like that.

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