Investments in green infrastructure yield added economic, health and environmental benefits
(March 26, 2012) – A new report released today by the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition identifies green infrastructure as a cost solution policy makers should be considering on the eve of the Ontario Budget and in subsequent political discussions centred on doing more with less.
“We need to think about public infrastructure the same way we think about health care – more holistically and with an eye towards prevention,” said Paul Ronan, Executive Director of the Ontario Parks Association. “Taxpayer dollars can go further, and provide a wider range of economic, health and environmental benefits, when significant green infrastructure investments are made to support more common ‘grey’ infrastructure spending.”
Health, Prosperity and Sustainability: The Case for Green Infrastructure in Ontario argues taxpayer dollars spent on green infrastructure offer a greater return on investment because of the multiple economic, health and environmental benefits. The report, co-written by the Coalition and Ecojustice, examines how other jurisdictions in North America are leveraging the rewards from public policies and investments in green infrastructure, and makes specific, practical recommendations to the provincial government on how to similarly benefit.
“Green infrastructure is all the naturally beautiful things we love about our neighbourhoods,” said Deborah Martin-Downs, Director of the Ecology Division, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. “It’s the public parks, local streams, landscaped gardens and the green roofs that are increasingly being built – all of which have wider economic and social benefits that we should be valuing, managing and expanding as we do other types of infrastructure in our communities. This is the living green infrastructure we all benefit from.”
With billions of dollars in new and improved public infrastructure investments required in the coming years, determining which investments will provide the greatest return for taxpayers is essential.
“Green infrastructure complements and extends the life of many types of traditional infrastructure,” said Liat Podolsky, staff scientist at Ecojustice. “For example, grassed boulevards and stormwater management ponds reduce water runoff and put less stress on sewer and water pipes, expanding the efficiency and lifespan of those pipes. But unlike pipes, green infrastructure has additional benefits such as cleaning our air, cooling our cities to reduce energy costs and making our neighbourhoods more attractive.”
Green infrastructure benefits are not being fully realized because existing provincial and municipal legislation, policies and investment strategies do not adequately facilitate opportunities for green infrastructure. With the report, the Coalition offers specific, practical recommendations including promoting green infrastructure for eligibility of planned public infrastructure funds and incorporating green infrastructure into existing policies and legislation.
“Green infrastructure is already making a substantial contribution to Ontario’s economy by employing more than 140,000 people in design, engineering, manufacturing, installation and maintenance,” said Steven Peck, President of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. “By implementing the recommendations in our report, the Province can build on existing expertise and create thousands of new jobs in communities throughout Ontario."
Ontario faces very real challenges – a struggling economy, aging and inefficient infrastructure, an obesity epidemic and associated health costs, and as the Environment Commissioner made clear recently, pending threats from climate change. Policies and investments that support the development of green infrastructure represent a significant opportunity for the provincial government to address these challenges.
“We look forward to working with the Provincial Government to develop a strategy for green infrastructure that will benefit all Ontarians,” said Janet McKay, Executive Director of Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests.
About the Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition
The Green Infrastructure Ontario Coalition is an alliance of more than 80 environmental non-government organizations, innovative businesses, community agencies and academic institutions. More information about the Coalition and green infrastructure in general can be found at www.greeninfrastructureontario.org.
More information about Ecojustice is available at www.ecojustice.ca.