Green Infrastructure: Lessons from Science and Practice

New Report Released June 2015

Green Infrastructure Report Cover Image

Report Summary

Green infrastructure is the use of trees, plants, and open space to help reduce floods and water pollution. Green infrastructure can provide many benefits for public health, local communities, and the environment. Across the US cities and towns are turning to green infrastructure to provide much-needed updates to aging storm water management systems. That is why understanding the strengths and limits of green infrastructure is relevant and timely, according to a new report released by scientists from Syracuse University, the Cary Institute, and the Harvard Forest, in partnership with the Science Policy Exchange. 

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The researchers gathered data on the performance of eight green infrastructure technologies, including green roofs, grassed swales, constructed wetlands, and porous pavement.  They analyzed their effectiveness at reducing storm water volume in summer and winter, as well as six common pollutants. They found that green infrastructure holds great promise but performance varies by technology, season, and site. For example, green roofs and porous pavement outperform detention ponds for storm water removal. For nitrogen and phosphorous pollution, detention and retention ponds outperform green roofs and other green infrastructure. Some green infrastructure also performs better in summer than winter. And, the data show substantial variation in performance from one site to another, suggesting that design, installation and maintenance practices can have a large impact.

Over the next decade, many communities will need to update their storm water management systems. When implementing green infrastructure it is critical to match the technology and management practices with the environmental conditions, storm water needs, and community expectations. The bottom line is that when it comes to green infrastructure one size doesn’t fit all conditions, and upkeep over time makes a big difference.

Click report image to download full text.

Driscoll, C.T., Eger, C.G., Chandler, D.G., Davidson, C. I., Roodsari, B.K., Flynn, C.D., Lambert, K.F., Bettez, N.D., Groffman, P.M. 2015. Green Infrastructure: Lessons from Science and Practice. A publication of the Science Policy Exchange. 32 pages.