Natural processes create additional benefits

Nature-based design

The ‘Nature-based design’ principle means that natural processes are used to strengthen the design. Working with nature instead of against nature. This will help prevent unintended negative side effects and result in additional benefits, for instance in terms of nature values. It may also result in cost savings.

The ‘Nature-based design’ principle requires engineers to gain insight into the natural processes occurring in a project environment by determining their physical, chemical and/or biological characteristics. Negative effects on these processes can then be avoided in the design phase, while such processes can also be used to create additional benefits. This principle is called ‘Building with Nature’. It is applied by performing a system analysis to consider the project in a broader context. Such an analysis involves determining the dominant processes, identifying key factors that can influence these processes, and finally identifying effective measures targeted at those key factors.

System analysis

When applying the sustainable design principles, system analysis is a much-needed ally. A water system, a soil system, a financial system, a computer system or a social system – taking effective measures that will influence a system in the right way is not possible until you understand how the system works.

A system analysis involves looking at the condition a system is in relative to any processes that influence that condition. That is what ecologist Sebastiaan Schep has been doing for the past thirteen years. ‘For instance, we regularly analyse water systems by closely examining its present condition (What flora and fauna does it provide a habitat for?, What is the water quality like?, etc.) and identifying the (environmental) processes that potentially influence that condition. We subsequently analyse these processes – such as the external water supply, phosphate load from agricultural sources – to see if that actually provides an explanation of the condition the water system is in. That ‘dialogue’ between condition analysis and process analysis is repeated for as long as it takes to identify those processes that provide the best possible explanation for the condition. That is when ‘system-wide insight’ is achieved and effective measures can be identified. Measures that target the relevant processes but also measures that directly affect the condition.’

Colleague Ivana Prusina talks about her field of expertise

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