Engineering Sustainable Change
By: Patrick Flynn
Over the past few years we have been working with communities to not only develop climate action plans, but also assess their vulnerability to climate change risks and identify adaptation strategies to build more resilient communities. A recurring theme throughout this work has been the important role that green infrastructure can play to address risks and improve resiliency.
Green infrastructure is defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage water and create healthier urban environments. At the scale of a neighborhood or site, it refers to stormwater management systems that mimic nature by soaking up and storing water. Examples include green roofs, rain gardens, and trees. At the scale of a city or larger, it refers to the patchwork of natural areas that provides habitat, flood protection, cleaner air, and cleaner water. Examples include forests, wetlands, marshes, and sand dunes.
The major benefits of green infrastructure that communities tend to focus on are reduced flooding and improved water quality, which are two areas of concern for many communities that have recently faced severe flooding and wildfires. This is particularly true for Colorado, which has included green infrastructure as a key component of their Resiliency Framework that was created, in part, to pursue the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Disaster Resilience Competition.
Communities are looking towards green infrastructure to help address flooding and water quality issues because, in many instances, the traditional grey infrastructure that they may have relied upon in the past has reached its capacity or is not as cost competitive when compared to green infrastructure. Grey infrastructure includes water treatment facilities, drainage canals, storm sewers, and seawalls, which have all played important roles in protecting communities.
However, in the face of increased flooding and other natural disasters, communities are trying to combine the benefits of both grey and green infrastructure. For example, green infrastructure is a key strategy for the Going Beyond Green Regional Sustainability Plan that we helped the City of Toledo and Lucas County, Ohio create. Like many communities in the Midwest and East Coast of the country, Toledo’s combined sewers cannot properly manage both sewer and stormwater during heavy rains. So, Toledo is adopting green infrastructure as a critical element to reduce flooding and water pollution.
True to our word as innovators, we are also walking the talk and have installed rain gardens at our headquarters in Fort Collins, Colorado as part of our goal to become water neutral. We used our recently released Net Zero Water toolkit to determine how we can become water neutral by determining both the water use and water quality impacts of our headquarters, and then identifying strategies for us to reduce those impacts. Our two rain gardens are one just strategy we have implemented; to learn more about Brendle Group’s commitment to sustainability visit http://brendlegroup.com/about/our_sustainability.
About the Author – Patrick is a Sustainability Analyst for the Brendle Group team, combining his skills in project management, environmental markets, greenhouse gas accounting, and carbon footprinting to support a variety of projects including carbon inventories; on-site energy and water assessments; and climate and sustainability action planning for cities, counties, businesses and educational institutions. He also has extensive experience in natural resource management in the United States and Latin America, and he is exploring new opportunities for Brendle Group in the nascent field of ecosystem services.
Prior to joining Brendle Group, Patrick worked with a diverse set of water utilities, government agencies, businesses, conservation organizations, and academics to strategize how to establish a watershed investment fund in Northern Colorado. He is a founding board member of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed, which was recently established to address water quality issues and risks related to wildfires. He is also on the Board of Directors of Trees, Water & People, a Fort Collins-based conservation organization. Patrick has an undergraduate degree in natural resources and a Masters of Business Administration in global, social and sustainable enterprise.