Valuing water: Showing principles through protection 

  • March 16, 2021
  • |
  • Erin Niehoff

This year, the theme of World Water Day—coming up on March 22—is valuing water. As the campaign says: “How we value water determines how water is managed and shared. The value of water is about much more than its price – water has enormous and complex value for our households, culture, health, education, economics and the integrity of our natural environment.” And if we overlook any of these values, we are at risk of mismanaging this precious resource.

The main connection point of the different projects and programs I work on at Environmental Initiative is water and, if you let me, I could probably go on for days about the ways I value water. Instead, I want to focus on a tool that builds the business case for water protection through native landscaping, green roofs, and urban tree canopy. This tool is the Corporate Guide to Sustainable Landscaping, created by the Sustainable Growth Coalition with the support of EI staff, released in late 2019.

As a leadership group, Sustainable Growth Coalition members recognize that not everyone has the same access to clean water—for drinking, recreation, and more. By assembling Corporate Guide to Sustainable Landscaping, we show organizations that the way they manage their properties can impact water resources for the communities where they operate and the general wellbeing of their employees and neighbors. Making significant changes to areas of lawn, oversized parking lots, and roof—spaces that are undervalued—takes time, money, and planning. Knowing where to start can feel overwhelming, which is where the guide comes in handy.

The Corporate Guide to Sustainable Landscaping is broken down into three parts to better navigate to the information you might be seeking:

  • Before you begin: What you need to know before you start value-add projects.
  • Benefits and business case: Information you’ll need to make the case to preserve and restore natural resources.
  • Project types: Investigate and hear from Sustainable Growth Coalition members about what worked for them.

Building the financial business case is important, but there are some pieces that are more intangible and harder to assign monetary value.

dogs on mississippi river
The author’s dogs overlooking the Mississippi River while on a hike.

Implementing native and natural habitat provides an organization with an opportunity to showcase its health and wellness values. Access to natural spaces contributes positively to employee health and wellness; walking can lower anxiety and depression while boosting mood and well-being.

The community benefits through the environmental improvements that more natural spaces provide. Native vegetation projects that incorporate natural stormwater designs can improve water quality, contributing cleaner water for recreation activities on nearby lakes, rivers, and streams. The addition of natural spaces—through rain gardens, pollinator habitat, urban canopy, and others—provide a natural aesthetic value that has been shown to improve the lives of those that are in contact with it.

In light of COVID-19, corporate campuses and sprawling office parks are likely to change. More people are working from home than ever before and are likely to continue to do so even when social distancing rules are relaxed. I have found taking daily walks has helped with my anxiety and clearing my mind. Seeing rain gardens and native vegetation in my neighborhood always lightens my mood for reasons beyond the water quality benefits.

For businesses that are reading this, with everything that will be changing in a post-COVID world:

  • How can you shift your corporate campus to meet your future needs? Can you convert parking lots to native landscaping, add tree canopy for shade, or other creative approaches?
  • What projects could you implement this spring, before more employees may return to office?
  • How could you help employees develop natural spaces at home or in their communities?

I value water for many things, but in this time of separation, especially so for the natural beauty and life it provides around me.

Water means different things for different people. What do you value about water?

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Additional resources

Employee Wellness and Retention
American Public Health Association. November 5, 2013. “Improving Health and Wellness through Access to Nature.” 

Largo-Wight, Erin et al. 2011. “Healthy Workplaces: The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health.” Public Health Reports 126(Suppl 1): 124–130. 

Macie, Ed. April 22, 2016. “Urban Forests: The Benefits Outweigh the Costs.” Land Grant University Extension website. 

Seppala, Emma and Johann Berlin. June 26, 2017. “Why You Should Tell Your Team to Take a Break and Go Outside.” Harvard Business Review.

 

Community Engagement and Equity
Center for Urban Forest Research. ND. “The Large Tree Argument: The Case for Large-Stature Trees vs. Small-Stature Trees. 

Chesapeake Bay Trust and Prince George’s County Department of the Environment. ND. “Urban Tree Canopy Fact Sheet.” 

DuBos, Monique. November 18, 2015. “Twin Cities heat island study yields surprises.” University of Minnesota—Institute on the Environment. 

Macie, Ed. April 22, 2016. “Urban Forests: The Benefits Outweigh the Costs.” Land Grant University Extension website. 

Nonko, Emily. May 23, 2018. “What Cities are Doing about the ‘Shocking’ Loss of Urban Forests.” Next City. 

Nowak, David J. and Eric J. Greenfield. 2018. Declining urban and community tree cover in the United States. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 32: 32-55. 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ND. “Heat Island Cooling Strategies.