Building BiodiverCities

By Mia Brown
News • Thoughts
28th June 22

“Biodiversity in cities should not be an oxymoron”

  • Cities account for 80% of global GDP and 75% of global CO2
  • 44% of global urban GDP is at risk from environmental loss
  • Nature-based solutions are 50% more cost-effective and deliver 28% added value than “grey” alternatives
  • ROI in sustainable infrastructure could be up to x3.5 initial investment



What will our cities look like in 10 years? In 30 years’ time?

The World Economic Forum published their report outlining a future scenario. In the report, one thing is clear: cities are double-edged swords.

They are the biggest contributor to environmental harm; they are the biggest opportunity for environmental regeneration.

The built environment is at the centre of today’s problems – and of tomorrow’s solutions.

Unbalanced cities

56% of the global population live in cities. By 2050, it will skyrocket to 75%.

Cities account for 80% of global GDP – $70 trillion – and growing. With rapid and unplanned expansion, they also produce over 75% of global CO2 emissions.

Consequently, environmental challenges can only be tackled with urban centres in the pilot seat.

The alternative? A future wrought with disruption from nature loss. Flooding, drought, poor air quality, urban heat – energy soars and labour productivity languishes.

An estimated 44% of global urban GDP is at risk. So, how can we course-correct and restore balance?

Balanced cities

Cities have three interdependent layers: nature, the built environment, and society. The latter constituting institutions and technologies that function within the built environment. To restore equilibrium, the built environment and society must be underpinned by a fully functioning natural layer.

As the report highlights, “biodiversity in cities should not be an oxymoron”. Cities should be living systems, enabling, nature-positive environments.

This is achieved through biomimicry in buildings, evergreen architecture, green roofs and plant-filled façades. Alternative materials and bio-inspired innovations – hempcrete, biocement, mycelium brick, building better with wood – many trends are emerging which can rebuild balance.

Densely urbanised cities must also consider land-sparing interventions: retrofitting stranded assets, reducing landfill space, repurposing car parks, creating flexible, mixed-use workspaces.

Nature-based cities

Nature-based solutions pose a huge business opportunity. According to the report, they are on average 50% more cost-effective than “grey” alternatives – inflexible infrastructure with high lock-in costs.

Bio-inspired solutions also deliver 28% more added value. Part of a healthy ecosystem, these assets appreciate over time: grey infrastructure depreciates.

Despite this, in 2021, these solutions received just 0.3% of overall urban infrastructure spending. Yielding greater returns with greater socioeconomic value, this is an obvious market failure – and opportunity.

Legally binding performance requirements are in view. Green bylaws are sprouting up. All buildings in San Francisco and Córdoba – new or existing – with rooftop space over 4,300 sq. ft. are required to be turned into green roofs.

Tomorrow’s design ethos will be built on preservation and re-naturing degraded or sub-optimised land. “Growing smart” with upgraded, green infrastructure.

Value-add cities

How big is this market opportunity?

According to the report, there is a potential $589 billion investment opportunity for nature-based solutions and land-sparing interventions. The return to investors could be at least $1.5 trillion in annual business value by 2030.

ROI in sustainable infrastructure could be up to x3.5 initial investment.

Multi-generational cities

Mobilisation of investment is key to reintegrate the natural world back into our world’s most populated areas.

We must shift to an inclusive investment marketplace, with revenue streams reflecting the true value of nature: exponential and multifaceted. From here, urban stakeholders can unlock evergreen solutions to today’s global challenges.

How else do we create buildings that benefit everyone, within cities that can flourish and be enjoyed by multi-generations?


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