Building with Nature Design may be introduced in a project development process as early as the Initiation Phase. The Initiation Phase deals with a first definition of the problem or opportunity at hand and the scoping of potential solutions.
|Building with Nature approach: wider and greener scope||Traditional approach: sectoral, narrow scope|
|System Approach: the BwN approach takes a wider perspective and aims for multiple objectives, i.e. strives for benefits to other functions, such as nature, recreation and other ecosystem-dependent functions. Applying BwN-principles as early as the Initiation Phase will have the largest influence on the end result.||Project Approach: traditionally, the initiation phase is characterized by a sectoral approach, a limited and mono-functional problem perception and a tendency to jump to solutions. Tradition plays an important role. Already in this early stage of development a usually narrow project framework is defined. This can be due to the problem-owner's/project-initiator's objectives or limitations, or to authorities biased to certain classes of problems and solutions.|
In the Initiation Phase the eco-dynamic developer has the largest freedom of choice regarding definition and realisation of project objectives. Including the BwN-perspective in this phase should guarantee scoping beyond sectoral interests and limited problem perceptions, focusing on opportunities and win-win solutions.
Broadening the scope (wider, greener, more multifunctional, better integrated, more sustainable) opens new perspectives. As far as possible under the constraints applicable, this can be achieved by:
- identifying potential positive effects of the project, not only negative impacts and problem solving,
- integrating nature and natural processes as means to achieve the project objectives and to enable additional functionality, and
- embracing other functions (and associated stakeholders) as "running mates", rather than isolating them as liabilities.
Especially in the Initiation Phase the shift in thinking as described in the BwN principles is of utmost importance. BwN solutions involve a transformation from a problem to an opportunity, e.g:
- Rich Enriching revetments: a dike is not just an artificial structure that provides safety from flooding, but also provides habitat and shelter to flora and fauna and connects ecotopes along the dike;
- Harbouring Opportunities: a harbour is not only infrastructure, but also an ecological hub connecting different water bodies, thus providing migration opportunities for many species.
This section provides guidance on the steps towards BwN objectives definition and project scoping. Where appropriate, useful methods and tools are suggested.
As indicated in the Introduction section of this guideline, the development of BwN solutions in each project phase follows the standard Five steps.
Crucial ingredient in this five step process is the timely involvement of the relevant experts, stakeholders and decision makers.*
Besides experts with relevant knowledge, ‘champions’ should be involved that can generate momentum for the BwN idea. Further, ecologists as well as environmental economists should be involved in this process as early as possible to enhance utilization and/or provision of ecosystem services.
Releasing the BwN-potential during the Initiation Phase is mainly done in creative working sessions. The outcome of such working sessions depends very much on the careful selection of the participants. A lesson learned during the BwN-programme is that a network, a healthy mix of people who adhere to traditional solutions and people who like thinking out of the box, produces results that are innovative yet feasible.
Step 1) Understand the system
The first Building with Nature principle states that man-made projects are an inherent part of the environment, providing a unique opportunity to induce positive change. Therefore, a thorough understanding of the system in which a project is planned is crucial to maximize benefits.
The generic strategic BwN objective is to deliver engineering services while delivering and/or utilizing ecosystem services. Once the project objectives are clear, the first step is to identify and investigate the biotic and abiotic ecosystem and the socio-economic system at hand.
A thorough understanding of the ecosystem, with a focus on the ecosystem services, is required to capture the opportunities that man-made projects provide. In the initial stage of a project, knowledge and understanding of the ecosystem at hand may be limited, if it were only by lack of data. The use of generic process knowledge and analogies with other locations may help, although they cannot account for the ‘genius of the place’.
In order to generate the appropriate understanding of the ecosystem, a system analysis needs to be performed (see
Determine the boundaries of the natural and socio-economic systems
Most ecosystems are open, the state of their elements is determined or strongly influenced by the interaction with neighbouring or distant elements. Interactions (e.g. exchange of water, sediment, nutrients, or biota) can be upstream, downstream or lateral. On top of this, internal processes may generate or dissipate system components (e.g. biomass, organic matter, or contaminants). Certain functional links, especially those involving economic activities, may reach beyond the ecosystem at hand. It is of crucial importance to choose the system boundaries such, that all relevant aspects can be included in the system analysis. Interesting perspectives may be obtained by considering:
The related socio-economic system may be contained within the natural system boundaries, but this is not necessarily so. There are functional links, for instance via ecosystem services. Some links are obvious and immediate (e.g. fish abundance and fisheries), others are more distal in space and time (e.g. a disturbed sediment balance in a river yielding coastal erosion).
One has to keep in mind that it is neither possible, nor necessary to include the whole world in the system analysis. At the same time, one should realize that discussion on what should and should not be part of the analysis is a root cause for conflict with stakeholders.
Determine the location specific characteristics
In order to enable custom-fit designs, mapping the location-specific characteristics is an important step. Without this information, one cannot make the step from a general to a site-specific design. Here, too, the characteristics are of physical as well as biological and socio-economic nature. Typical questions in this mapping process are related to prevailing:
It is important to keep in mind that relevant location-specific information is not necessarily of the location itself. Changes in the watershed many miles away may be relevant, as may be the effects of a certain project elsewhere along the coast.
Determine the dynamics of the natural system
For any BwN design one should consider the different spatial and temporal scales playing a role in the system’s dynamic behaviour. Changes at a wide range of time scales may need to be considered, from seconds (water and sediment motion) to decades or even centuries (climate change). One of the basic forcing of the system, the weather, is essentially stochastic with a variety of time scales, so the system’s behaviour is likely to also exhibit similar features.
This inherent variability has to be considered in the analysis. Working with time-averaged data only can easily lead to systematic errors. Regular variability (e.g. tidal, seasonal) as well as extreme events (e.g. droughts and floods) should both be taken into account. Furthermore, statistical analyses may be required to distinguish facts from perceptions. (see
Morphological changes may cover time spans of many years. The Western Wadden Sea, for instance, a tidal embayment with gullies, intertidal flats and salt marshes, is still subject to changes due to the closure of the Zuiderzee more than 75 years ago. Similar long-term developments occur in the Southwesterly Delta of The Netherlands. Here the morphology is still responding to the construction of a system of dams and barriers (the "Delta Works") several decades ago.
Also biological processes occur on different time scales. Recolonisation or recovery timescales may play an important role in the Initiation Phase. For instance: is it ecologically preferable to have a large intervention once, instead of repeated smaller interventions (the Sand Engine concept)?
Identify relevant ecosystem services
Next to responding to the functional requirements of the infrastructure to be developed (possibly described in a System Engineering model), a crucial step in generating the required system understanding is to identify the functional links between the ecosystem and the project. What ecosystem services can the natural system deliver to the project and what can the project contribute to the ecosystem functioning on the other? Mapping these functional links is the basis for exploring potential win-win solutions. To have this clear may help in the relation with stakeholder groups and institutions (see next section). Questions to be answered here are:
Links between the ecosystem and a project always exist. It is important to consider whether they are relevant to the development of the project and how they affect the ecosystem. One should assess whether these links are sufficiently known. If not so, dedicated monitoring and research are needed to build up the necessary knowledge and understanding.
Wherever possible the potential services between the ecosystem on the one hand and the project on the other should be described in terms of flows, carrying capacities and Value Creating Cascades:
The BwN Design Guideline provides for tools (
Specify the stakeholder context
Relevant stakeholders of the project are those people or parties that are using ecosystem services of which the provisioning is changing as a result of the intervention, such as fishermen and citizens, but also regulatory authorities and financial institutions. Project development and acceptance depend strongly upon their involvement and consent. Ambitions and requirements formulated by these groups may act as design criteria. These may relate to effects, costs, location and timing, but also to the allocation of costs, benefits, tasks, responsibilities and risks. The institutional setting determines to a large extent which formal planning procedures apply, which financial mechanisms can be used and how projects can be contracted.
Step 2) Identify realistic Building with Nature alternatives
Once a system analysis has been made, a next question is how to reveal and utilise the potential of BwN alternatives. Below several steps are listed for generation and creative scoping of alternatives. For each step methods are described that focus especially on the use of natural resources and processes in the development of alternatives.
The following steps are important in revealing and utilising the potential of BwN alternatives:
Test and widen the project objectives
Project-initiators are sometimes unaware of the extent to which their project offers potential for BwN. The basis for introducing the BwN approach into a project is critical examination of the project objectives. The following principles illustrate how a project’s perspective can be broadened:
Explore beyond traditional approaches
Several techniques may be used to explore solutions outside the realm of traditional approaches. By giving up traditional reference frames, one may trigger lateral thinking. Below are three examples/techniques, especially suited for BwN projects:
Enhance resilience of the BwN design
It is not possible to give a 100% performance guarantee for BwN designs. Our understanding of the natural system’s behaviour is limited and influenced by factors beyond our control. Moreover, predictions of morphological and ecological processes may include significant and sometimes inherent uncertainties. Testing a design should therefore include the performance outside the range of normal conditions (e.g. epidemic floral or faunal diseases, the effects of a freak storm). How resilient is a project facing such events? To what extent can it recover or be remediated / restored? Does the need for remediation also generate new lines of thinking and win-win situations? Often redundant materials can be used to also enhance recovery of the natural environment and to create more robust system solutions.
When considering a conceptual design, one has to take into account all sorts of natural dynamics: average conditions, design conditions, extreme events and incidents, gradual shifts and trends. To enable testing and – if necessary - adjusting a design, it needs to be exposed to various “stresses”. Depending on the situation, different kinds of “stress tests” may be used:
These tests may result in an optimization of the project that goes beyond object design. Administrative measures, budget allocations and agreements between actors may be required, as well as spatial planning and building regulations. Explicit identification of the risks creates the opportunity to handle them as part of the design, thereby supporting their acceptance, as well as that of the ecological elements included in or brought about by the BwN project.
Step 3) Evaluate and select alternatives
Once a system analysis has been made and a range of alternative conceptual designs is generated, a third step is to filter the alternatives and elements that have potential from those that have not: survival of the fittest.
Step 4) Elaborate selected alternatives
In every project phase, selection reduces the range of alternatives and elaboration of the remaining alternatives further specifies the project. Obviously, this process takes place within the given set of goals, prerequisites, practical restrictions and regulations.
Step 5) Bring results to the next phase
The final step is to set the stage for the Planning and Design phase. This may also imply the options for pilot testing and additional field work. It will result in the assessment of the full potential of the remaining BwN-alternatives. Furthermore it involves the exploration of co-financing possibilities if multiple objectives are served. Also, uncertainties will be considered.