The business case for greening our cities

Teresa Huntsinger is the program director for clean and plentiful water at the Oregon Environmental Council. Jeff Stone is the executive director for the Oregon Association of Nurseries.

Teresa Huntsinger is the program director for clean and plentiful water at the Oregon Environmental Council. Jeff Stone is the executive director for the Oregon Association of Nurseries. 

The wet season is upon us.

All that rain pounding on buildings and sidewalks, working its way down city streets reminds us that cities weren’t built to handle wet weather as well as natural areas do. As a result, stormwater runoff is the largest source of pollution for urban streams. Fixing this problem is fostering a new growth industry for our state, and it’s helping one of our largest industrial sectors recover from the recession.

The solution to runoff is right in front of us: using plants and soil to restore natural function to our cities by shading our homes and rivers and absorbing and cleaning the polluted water that runs off streets, sidewalks and rooftops. Known as green infrastructure or low-impact development, facilities like green roofs, green walls, rain gardens, bioswales and street trees are environmentally friendly and cost-effective approaches to managing rainwater and preventing pollution in our waterways.

As an American Rivers report from earlier this year points out, green infrastructure saves money in the process, including:

• Reduced costs of treating polluted runoff compared to upgrading pipes and “grey” infrastructure

• Substantial energy savings and reduced heat island effect

• Averted flooding and related damage

• Improved public health as a result of reduced bacteria and pollution in rivers and streams

Oregon is on the forefront of low-impact development, especially in the Portland metro area. Clean Water Act requirements to address the stormwater problem are driving innovation and creating jobs.

Oregon businesses that learned how to build and design green infrastructure systems here are now exporting that knowledge nationwide. Columbia Green, a green roof company based in Oregon, raised $1.2 million from investors and doubled their sales this year. The ecoroof market grew 115 percent last year and shows no sign of slowing down, meaning more employment here in Oregon.

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