After a brilliant, whirlwind few days in Vienna, we are back on home soil feeling motivated and ready to change the world! 

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We made the trip to attend Europe’s First Urban Green Infrastructure Conference, which brought together people from over Europe and from many different disciplines. It gave us an opportunity to hear from some brilliant key note speakers, to share knowledge, experiences and put our heads together to plan our next steps for implementing green infrastructure in an effort to stop climate change and improve our cities.The conversations at EUGIC showed us the wealth of information regarding green infrastructure. The science and the research is there, the benefits are there, and the dangers of what will happen if we ignore all of this is there. We have the case. Our next challenge is to make green infrastructure happen. 

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A key question that ran throughout the two day conversation was ‘Should we put a price on nature?’ It’s a topic that has been spoken about in books by both George Monbiot, Tony Juniper, and others, and remains an ongoing debate. Many have began to refer to nature as ‘natural capital’. From a personal point of view (and I’m sure I speak for the whole team when I say this) no, we shouldn’t. Or at least in an ideal world we wouldn't like to; what we are dealing with are values which are non-consumerables. In other words, you cannot put a price on the intangible value of health, wellbeing, clean air, freedom…the list goes on

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However, that being said, we cannot assume that we live in an ideal world. To make a difference, create big change, and implement green infrastructure on a huge scale, we need to create new markets for this and ultimately a business case. We were reminded at the conference about how quickly our lives have changed since the arrive of smart phones (and how quickly markets developed around them). Smart phones revolutionised the way we use technology, as well as spawned countless businesses and developed a whole new digital economy by applying a price, and fuelling further investment. Can, and should, a price be applied to nature as well?

 

Another key point picked up from the conference was not to see grey infrastructure as the enemy, but to work with them. The construction industry is huge, powerful and worth billions. If we want to create change, don’t we want these guys as our ally?

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Furthermore we have our resources. Funding is readily available, it is just difficult to access. And with a shortage of jobs for thousands of graduates each year, creating a green infrastructure industry and accessing new markets could resolve this problem. A fantastic presentation by Sandra  Naumann really opened my eyes to this potential. She has considered many markets where GI could fit, that many of us had not previously thought about. She suggested insurance companies- a worthwhile investment for them to reduce their payouts for health insurance and flood risks. The tourism industry, an opportunity to invest in attractive green space for people and wildlife. And large corporates, an opportunity for them to improve their social responsibility. All beneficial for these industries, whilst still being benefitting our planet.

 

Ultimately it is about education, about moving GI away from a fad and into the mainstream.

Our goal is to make our cities green, so that it benefits our people and nature. Whilst educating and communicating with the world is the best way to make this happen, it won’t happen over night. so if putting a price on nature for the time being and creating an industry that will bring this change is contributing to our final goal, then thats all that matters right?

 

- Claire Russell