Mainstreaming Green Infrastructure: Moving From Persuasion to Acceptance

Alister Scott, Professor of Environmental Geography, Northumbria University and Chair, Building with Nature Standards Board discusses blue green infrastructure implementation.

“Mainstreaming” is an overused word; often used too loosely, failing to capture its true challenges and nature. To me it is a process that involves the translation and prioritisation of a concept established in one policy area into others to such an extent that it becomes normalised in their daily activities and behaviours. This is far more than integration and involves culture and behaviour change.    

Thus for green infrastructure this means taking the concept which has been developed in the environmental sector and translating and adapting it to meet the needs and priorities within economic, business and community sectors. To do this effectively requires a cyclical process of  communication, persuasion, acceptance and reinforcement.  

In my view green infrastructure is still held hostage in the persuasion phase with much research focussing on the value and multiple benefits of green infrastructure. There is insufficient focus on  delivery and a lack of attention on how best to communicate why green infrastructure is relevant to different professional interests and how it can fit in to existing policy and decision-making processes Consequently, it is still largely treated as an extra; a  cosmetic piece of infrastructure and certainly not seen or prioritised as critical  infrastructure. 

So how can we move out of our present fix?  There are a number of challenges, not least with unpacking the term green infrastructure itself* . Indeed I prefer “living infrastructure”.  Furthermore, there is a mushrooming environmental vocabulary within which green infrastructure sits rather uncomfortably; including natural capital, ecosystem services, net gain and nature recovery. All require unpacking in their own right but also critically understanding how these terms actually relate to each other in the messy reality we live in . There is also an attendant risk that green infrastructure becomes entrenched its own silo rather that it being promoted as an integral part of the built and natural environment jigsaw.  

Thus for effective mainstreaming I believe there are several interrelated actions necessary:

  1. To understand the distinctive needs and priorities of different audiences in economic and social sectors. Often we try and convert audiences using our own specialist vocabulary and evidence. Hence my emphasis on the need to translate and adapt green infrastructure to   their vocabularies and policy priorities realising there is no one size fits all approach. Here we can identify the key “hooks” to build our communication and persuasion strategies.  
  2. We also need to demonstrate what “good” looks like. There is limited attention to showcasing what we are seeking to achieve. The demonstration farms provide a useful model in my opinion . We need “living laboratories” which highlight the art of the possible with full evidence of their costs and impact to give people the confidence to use it.
  3. Within the other sectors and wider publics we need to identify and work with champions who can communicate the messages as engineers, planners, surveyors or politicians.   These are people who think outside the silos and are innovators.
  4. Perhaps most controversially in a world of priorities and diminished resources it is important that we safeguard the public and wider environmental interests with strong regulation underpinned with supporting guidance to achieve positive environmental outcomes. CIRIA have helped lead the way with their manuals** and it is not right we just rely on voluntary schemes. Currently green infrastructure is seen as an optional extra when in fact it should be seen as critical infrastructure. New regulation can help change that mindset but it can’t if it is conceived in isolation. Here linkages with the biodiversity, climate and health emergencies provide the traction to make real progress if tangible benefits can be identified. 

References:
*GI is essentially a planned network of greenspace which is designed and managed to generate multiple benefits at a variety of scales.   
**See https://www.ciria.org/News/CIRIA_news2/Guidance_for_Biodiversity_Net_Gain.aspx and https://www.ciria.org/News/CIRIA_news2/CIRIA_publishes_new_guidance_on_SuDS_construction.aspx


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