Inspired by Nature’s Genius
Nature-inspired designs and nature-based solutions are rapidly coming to the forefront of alternative project delivery strategies.
Image courtesy of Jeremy Hills
In his article for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s special COP26 edition of The Geographer magazine, our Chair and CEO Steve Demetriou discusses our relationship with the natural environment and how nature-based solutions can and should become an integral component of decarbonization efforts.
Climate change, biodiversity loss and social inequality are among the biggest global crises today. How we respond to them requires all of us to work together – governments, businesses, communities and individuals. At Jacobs, we are fully committed and have a pivotal role to play – both in how we operate our business and in the climate action, decarbonization and sustainability solutions we implement in partnership with our clients to benefit people and the planet. We see every day as an opportunity to create a more connected, sustainable world.
Society is becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the choices we make, including the items we buy and use. Our clients are talking to us every day about how to decarbonize their operations to achieve net zero commitments and carbon positive results wherever possible, and to build purposeful sustainable strategies. And our employees share that passion and commitment to innovate and drive action for change.
Securing long-term, equitable prosperity and wellbeing relies on society understanding and mitigating impact on our planet and rebalancing our demand for nature’s resources. Education and shared learning are vital on this journey and that’s why we value our collaboration with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in helping empower and inspire change.
With the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) being the first COP since the global pandemic, we anticipate a renewed focus on society’s relationship with the natural environment and how we can collectively reach net zero targets as soon as possible. Climate change is undoubtedly contributing to biodiversity loss across all global ecosystems. The vital role of our natural world in carbon sequestration and storage makes this loss more acute; we have seen this in stark focus with the degradation of peatland environments.
Alongside COP26, the inaugural World Biodiversity Summit is expected to focus on the actionable leadership, key mechanisms and collaborative innovation needed to enable all areas of society to tackle the biodiversity crisis – improving the health and wellbeing of ecosystems and the communities that depend on them. Nature-based solutions can and should become an integral component of decarbonization efforts in our drive to achieve net zero.
Nature-inspired designs and nature-based solutions are rapidly coming to the forefront of alternative project delivery strategies. And the role natural capital approaches play in supporting the delivery of some of the most challenging environmental targets is becoming increasingly accepted.
While challenges with moving beyond nature-based strategies to nature-based delivery remain, it is promising to see the number of successful examples of conservation, restoration and improved land management actions growing in recent years. The natural world provides an abundant source of inspiration and novel ways that can help us think differently and reimagine these solutions. Designing “for nature, by nature” can also help create greater equity among communities, particularly those most vulnerable to climate change impacts, through the incorporation of green and blue infrastructure in urban areas that enhance public health and wellbeing.
At Jacobs we recently created a unique collaboration with Biomimicry 3.8, a global consulting and innovation firm specializing in nature-based solutions and nature-inspired designs to offer Positive Performance. This assessment and innovation methodology helps clients to develop and integrate regenerative best practices and incorporate nature’s time-tested strategies into products, organizations and services. Informed by 3.8 billion years of natural evolution, biomimicry provides a unique platform for the development of sustainable and regenerative designs.
The methodology helps engineers, architects, landscape architects and planners to understand, emulate and enable ecosystem services – the multi-faceted benefits that natural ecosystems provide to humanity (such as air quality, carbon sequestration, water cycle management, aesthetics and renewable energy), in order to deliver health and wellness benefits through their designs.
Since 2020, Jacobs and B3.8 have collaborated on the Positive Design methodology with a range of organizations at the forefront of global sustainability including Ford Motor Company, University of California at Davis, a US Federal Laboratory and a confidential global software company. Encompassing industrial facilities, research labs, hospitals and data centres, Jacobs and B3.8 are helping clients move beyond sustainable and aim for Positive Performance and regenerative impact.
Rising to the challenge, we are seeing a committed generation of sustainability leaders creating a positive flow of ecosystem solutions in their designs for infrastructure schemes. For example, protecting and restoring natural habitats along coasts or rivers can protect communities and infrastructure from flooding and erosion, while also increasing carbon storage and enhancing biodiversity. England’s Broadland Flood Alleviation Project is a unique 20-year programme to improve and maintain 149 miles of flood defences within the Norfolk Broads, one of Europe’s most important wetland areas. In addition to improved flood defences to protect homes and farmland, significant environmental improvements, enhancements to recreational facilities for communities, and protection of habitat for rare and endangered species have been realized as well.
Carbon captured by coastal ecosystems such as saltmarshes, referred to as “blue carbon,” provides a natural way of reducing the impact of greenhouse gases on our atmosphere. Jacobs, in partnership with scientists, charities and financial experts, is developing the U.K.’s carbon code for saltmarshes, which will enable investment in the restoration of these important habitats. Projects that sequester carbon, regulate floods, cool urban temperatures, and purify the air while providing biodiverse habitat, healthy food and clean water show what is possible when we emulate nature to create conditions conducive to all life.
Generous, climate-smart, nature-positive communities are inherently healthier and more enriching places to live. The World Biodiversity Summit provides a crucial opportunity to help accelerate action for the transformative change needed. It is only by garnering and driving a collective response that we can ensure our society and our natural environment survives and thrives for generations to come.