What does nature positive mean for the building sector?
Lifelong sustainability advocate and Senior Consultant at RDT Pacific, Cristina Larrea has built a cross-sector career in integrated environmental management in Latin America and now Aotearoa New Zealand. Here, Cristina shares what nature positive means, why protecting and restoring nature is essential to the longevity of our built environment and outlines some nature-enhancing practices.
The words carbon neutral and net zero have become part of our everyday, as concerns over climate and biodiversity loss increase, and governments, public and private sector organisations and academia ramp up efforts to reduce environmental impacts. At the United Nations biodiversity conference, COP15 in December 2021, 195 countries agreed on a Global Biodiversity Framework with 12 targets toward a nature positive world by 2050, supported by major economies.
With deadlines in place, the pace has quickened and the importance of process and understanding to achieve what we need to do and where we need to go is essential to achieve these targets.
Nature positive for the building sector
If nature positive were a colour it would undoubtedly be green. While definitions vary, nature positive broadly refers to activities that put ecosystems at the centre and have overall positive impacts on the natural world. For organisations, it means integrating nature considerations into strategic planning to avoid and reduce harm, as well as restore and regenerate ecosystems.
For the building sector, taking a nature positive approach is on par with climate change, critically important and far-reaching due to its large environmental footprint. In December 2022 the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) reported that by 2030, urban land cover will increase by 1.2 million km² and the built environment may double in size by 2050 with 7 billion urban residents.
A nature positive approach contributes to the overall wellbeing of communities and the sustainability of our built environment.
The ground rules
Adopting a nature positive approach in the built environment involves more than just minimising ecological impacts – it means enhancing natural environments through design, construction, operations, supply chains, considering end-of-life impacts and overall, making informed choices.
Key elements include:
- Site selection involves careful evaluation, assessment and measurement of ecological impact and sensitive habitat species
- Materials prioritise locally sourced, sustainable choices which embrace a circular economy approach
- Procurement policies and procedures are responsible and support conservation
- Nature-based solutions incorporated into design e.g. green spaces, roofs, walls and corridors to promote biodiversity
- Regenerative practices like stormwater capture and on-site treatment
- Measuring impacts and setting realistic targets through biodiversity inventories and engagement
Setting science-based nature targets
As our awareness and commitment grows towards a nature-based building environment there are helpful tools being developed to support for organisations to set goals, identify risks and report measured outcomes.
The Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) offers methodology to enable science-based goal-setting for nature, considering climate science.
The Taskforce on Nature-related Financial disclosures (TNFD) provides a framework for reporting nature-related risks and opportunities. Companies can use this framework to measure impacts across value chains.
By leveraging tools like these, we can better establish preservation commitments with measurable outcomes. This brings us closer to halting and reversing biodiversity loss through practical yet robust frameworks to mainstream nature protection.
What’s in it for us?
For the building sector, nature-positive practices bring environmental, social and economic benefits. More resilient construction supports wellbeing while minimising ecological footprints. Sustainably-rated buildings typically command higher rental and resale values and yield lower operational and maintenance costs. Green buildings also generate evolving environments that people are eager to be part of.
As environmental pressures mount, taking a nature positive approach has never been more critical for the sustainability of our global building sector.
RDT Pacific’s sustainability advisory services deliver better long-term outcomes for your projects, people and the environment.