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Insights Green infrastructure: the challenges and opportunities

With global governments making commitments to achieving net zero through The Paris Agreement and other similar schemes, it should come as no surprise that there are huge planned investments in green infrastructure.

In fact, with the built environment accounting for up to 50% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, it plays a key role in achieving ambitious net-zero targets.

If you’re looking to kickstart or progress your career in this exciting area, it’s well worth being informed on the following challenges and opportunities that the built environment is facing.

Global investment in green infrastructure

Reports suggest that $627 billion was allocated to sustainable and green infrastructure projects globally in 2021. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has also identified $24.7 trillion of green building opportunities, just in emerging markets - showing how large and far-reaching the opportunities in this space are.

It is clear that the opportunities in this area are huge, but so are the challenges. Requirements for skilled, knowledgeable, and ambitious professionals such as engineers and project managers are likely to grow in this exciting space.

Types of green infrastructure

There are already many types of green infrastructure projects having a positive impact across the globe. Although some of these solutions are small in scale, their easy application makes them perfect for repetition in many areas.

For example, rain gardens are being used in New York to direct rainwater to small planted areas that thrive in wet environments, reducing the strain on the city's drainage network. Green roofs are also being used widely in urban areas as a way to capitalise on largely unused roof spaces. This approach not only helps create better living environments for residents but also enables active rainfall infiltration and evapotranspiration of stored water. In fact, green roofing is such an effective form of green infrastructure that some major cities offer financial incentives to use them.

The future of green infrastructure innovations

With big investments in green infrastructure, so too come big ideas for improving the environmental impacts of our living spaces. There are already some exciting innovations in the pipeline that are set to revolutionise many areas of construction. Some of these are currently being tested around the world.

For example, the Hot Heart project in Helsinki, has ambitious plans to convert low- or negative-cost renewable energy into thermally heated water that can then be distributed throughout the city during the winter months.

Other businesses such as AtkinsRéalis are using their expertise in building management to build innovative solutions such as their DECARBONOMICS platform that uses data to benchmark, roadmap, and deliver more efficient building management.

Some buildings are already using innovative solutions to maintain heat in winter and cool the building in summer. One example of this is One Angel Square in Manchester, UK which uses an innovative double-skin facade. This innovation has resulted in the building receiving an A+ Energy Performance Certificate.

Built environment and green infrastructure challenges

There are many challenges in moving built environments toward a greener future. As the industry is so heavily regulated, all new solutions need to follow established regulatory pathways and meet stringent design standards. Although many governments are working hard to safely remove the ‘red tape’ blocking some green infrastructure innovations, this is still a big challenge for the industry.

Other challenges surround socio-factors, such as the wide acceptance and use of new infrastructure solutions by global populations. Without widespread acceptance, even the best solutions could be rendered useless. Financial implications also come into play, as populations grow there are increasing stresses on budgets to build new and update old built environments, often meaning those in charge of picking solutions opt for those at the lowest price point.

Your future in green infrastructure with AtkinsRéalis

It is clear that green infrastructure has a key role to play in the sustainable future of our planet. There are many exciting innovations in this space, along with major challenges that are yet to be solved in a widely accepted and sustainable way.

If you are looking to start or further your career in green infrastructure, why not browse our construction jobs? Alternatively, if you would like to stay up-to-date with all the exciting upcoming opportunities you can join our talent community.