Reuter's latest issue of the Ethical Corporation magazine included an article about how L'Oreal—the world's largest cosmetic company—has managed to cut its water consumption by over a third over the past decade, despite increasing production rates. How is this possible? Because the $60 billion company implemented some green infrastructure into its day-to-day productions.
This brought us to the decision to dedicate this week's blog to people's most common questions about the subject.
We see so many environmental terms tossed around in front of our eyes daily, so it's totally okay to not understand what they all mean. But one you should know a little bit about is the term green infrastructure. Why? Because it's got a lot to do with how we plan to build our communities for generations to come.
What is Green Infrastructure?
Incorporating nature into the things we build—that’s what green infrastructure is all about.
It's a cost-effective, resilient approach to managing urban and climatic challenges by building with nature instead of competing against it.
When we're talking about water, green infrastructure is an approach to water management that protects, restores, or mimics the natural water cycle. It means planting trees and restoring wetlands rather than building new water treatment plants. Green infrastructure incorporates both the natural environment and engineered systems to provide clean water for both people and wildlife.
Nature can inspire us to creatively solve human problems such as wastewater treatment, flooding, and drought.
What do we need to do?
Our future needs to include investments in solutions that improve the state of our freshwater resources while growing our economy, improving our quality of life, and developing solutions for the world. We need to:
Look at how our communities treat wastewater and storm water.
Make sure every Manitoban can access clean drinking water.
Make sure we take care of our soil and air by removing pollutants.
Green infrastructure is a way of working toward sustainable development—creating green jobs, enhancing the environment, and providing services for our communities.
What's the main goal of green infrastructure?
Green infrastructure can be defined somewhat differently depending on the specific topic (water, waste, transportation, etc.), but the overall common goal of any green infrastructure project is to:
Lower greenhouse gas emissions
Purify and filter air, soil, or water
Mitigate and prevent the impacts of disasters from climate change outcomes, such as floods and droughts, leading to community resilience
Why does Manitoba need green infrastructure?
Any province—or country, for that matter—would benefit from projects that shift us toward more renewable energy and resource use. Green infrastructure provides the benefits listed in the previous section—preparing us become more resilient toward issues like climate change, power outages, and severe weather incidents while also lowering our carbon footprints.
For example: studies show that a green roof—a layer of vegetation planted over a waterproofing system that is installed on top of a flat or slightly–sloped roof—can decrease the amount of energy needed to cool a building by up to 50 per cent.
Examples of Green Infrastructure in Manitoba.
This local gem is a prime example of the power of green infrastructure.
In 2015, FortWhyte Alive released a detailed five-year plan for upping its sustainability game. From installing massive solar panels on site to going electric and reducing waste created by the facility, FortWhyte Alive is fighting climate change and building a community for environmental stewardship.
This small community near the shores of Lake Winnipeg is showing other Manitoba municipalities that going green is within all of our reach. The community has implemented sustainability practices like installing a passive filtration system that uses natural resources, such as duck weed, to pull nutrients like phosphorus from the water.
Check out our video where we interviewed Dunnottar Mayor Rick Gamble on the community's innovative passive filtration system.
Nestled in the rolling hills about four km east of Holland, Manitoba is the site for Pelly’s Lake Watershed Management Project.
The site contains two water retention structures that were built to help regulate water flow, especially during spring melt and runoff. These structures also help reduce flooding, increase hay production, improve wetland health, and remove nutrients from the Boyne River System before it reaches lake Winnipeg.
By late summer, the area is dried enough that machinery can harvest the cattails, which are used as biofuel and take phosphorus out of the water (which helps decrease the amount in Lake Winnipeg).
Speaking of wetlands, we can't talk about the subject without bringing up Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre.
This marsh wildlife management area is more than just an educational facility to teach Manitobans about the importance of water and wildlife, it's a huge asset to the overall health of Manitoba.
Oak Hammock Marsh maintains clean water by naturally preventing floods, recharging the groundwater, and promoting the natural lifecycle of water. Without wetlands like Oak Hammock Marsh, Manitoba's entire water supply would suffer.
Check out our video where we interview Oak Hammock Marsh staff about why this marsh is so important to Manitoba.
Oak Hammock Marsh also has one of the largest green roofs around, which brings us to our next point...
Manitoba Hydro Place uses 70% less energy than a comparable office building of conventional design—and one of the reasons for that success is because of its green roofs.
Located at 360 Portage Avenue, downtown Winnipeg, the Manitoba Hydro Place is the first and only large office tower in Canada to date to receive the LEED Platinum certification from the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC). The building serves as a great example of climate responsive, energy efficient and sustainable design while enhancing and improving the quality and comfort of the human experience and the civility of urban life.
One of Manitoba's many provincial parks sits on the banks of the Assiniboine River—we're talking about the beautiful Beaudry Park.
This riverside region is crucial to Manitoba's waterways because it provides a habitat for aquatic life and also helps filter out phosphorus and nitrogen from the river.
Maintaining parks like this one makes a huge difference to the health of Manitoba, because native plants that are grown here are capable of things that our lawns and backyards simply aren't.
Native plants have specifically adapted to live in our climate and keep our lakes and rivers clean.
There are many other types of green infrastructure we could talk about, but the point is that we must all have an understanding about why implementing this infrastructure in our communities is necessary for our future.
Understanding what green infrastructure is, and why there's such a need for it, is the first step in making it happen. Manitoba has a lot of great examples of green infrastructure active today, but we still have a long way to go in becoming Canada's cleanest and greenest province.