Working with nature

Bringing nature-based solutions to life

Nature already has the answers. We just need to listen. Nature-based solutions are affordable and scalable; they have a powerful role to play in decarbonising the built environment.

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Working in tune with natural systems is critical to responding to climate change positively. Nature-based solutions is a term used to describe a diverse range of techniques that increase our resilience to climate impacts - such as overheating, flooding, and more frequent and intense storms to the overuse of natural resources - whilst simultaneously supporting the regeneration of ecosystems.

An evolving set of methods, nature-based solutions represent an essential step forward beyond ‘hard’ approaches traditionally deployed by built environment practitioners.

We want to use our technical knowledge and skills to restore, regenerate and enhance nature’s systems. This is what will allow us to create a climate-resilient and healthy future.

Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Global Water Leader
A photograph of the Freetown landslide, supported in recovery by Arup using nature-based solutions.
Helping Freetown recover from disaster

Following a disastrous landslide in 2017, Arup provided nature-based mitigation advice to help protect the city in the future. 21,000 native trees were planted by local residents to help stabilise the slopes and reduce rainfall runoff.

We have the solutions

Nature-based solutions use nature’s own systems as a design guide. Our infrastructure experts are leaders in incorporating nature-based solutions into projects of all scales, delivering healthier, more resilient environments that support communities and biodiversity. This is an approach to building our future that is affordable, available, and scalable today.

Our approachHere are four priorities for working with nature:


Harness nature to improve flood risk management

Increasing concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases means that global climate systems have been seriously disrupted. In many locations this means more extreme rainfall and more frequent flooding. Climate scientists have confirmed that flooding will continue to intensify over coming decades. Relying solely on physically constructed barriers to protect us from flooding is no longer the best approach. Building higher and higher walls along shore and coast lines will not provide the protection we need, nor is it what communities want.

Our infrastructure teams have pioneered techniques that allow places to act as sponges. A system of interventions using natural vegetation and existing watercourses - ‘green’ and ‘blue’ infrastructure - hold back, attenuate, and absorb excess water. These techniques prioritise water security, environmental protection, and ecological restoration.

Each environment is unique, and designs include features best suited to the site, from green spaces, rainwater gardens and permeable paving to rainwater harvesting and retention ponds. Together, these nature-based solutions can transform a neighhourhood’s capacity to flood resilience, while simultaneously integrating more green space to the urban fabric.


Green building facades lower the temperature

Existing urban development approaches have created a vicious circle – as cities densify they become ‘heat islands’, more air conditioning and other cooling equipment is installed, which generates more heat, temperatures rise further, requiring more air conditioning. According to C40 Cities, people living in more than 970 cities around the world regularly face temperatures above 35 °C.

Our urban greening work proves that another type of city is possible. When green building envelopes are implemented at scale, significant drops in urban temperatures and cleaner air are the result. Green facades can be affordable, practical, and easy to maintain. Arup is working with cities across Germany and Melbourne, Australia to make urban greenery a feature of government-run building projects.


Better disaster recovery

Climate change impacts often affect the most vulnerable communities and in developing countries or refugee settlements the consequences can be especially severe. Taking a nature-based ethos has particular value in these situations, ensuring that new adaptation measures features to hazards such as hurricanes, flood and drought don’t exacerbate existing resource shortages or local environmental fragility.

In 2017, a powerful landslide occurred on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. It developed into a flow of debris flow that travelled 6km through the city, leaving a path of devastation. Our geologists and engineers worked with the World Bank to assess the damage and support post-disaster recovery and reconstruction planning. To stabilise the slope and prevent further landslides in the area, we proposed a combination of earthworks and nature-based solutions – in this case, tree planting. Seventy-five thousand native trees were planted by local residents who were trained in forest management by the United Nations Office for Project Services.


Climate-positive materials

Existing building methods and materials, particularly global reliance on concrete and steel, are a key reason why the built environment is responsible for such a significant proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions. While the transition away from these materials will take time, promising materials and practices are emerging, inspired by nature that will lead to greener buildings.

As a building material, timber is a plentiful natural resource and one that can absorb CO2 – two reasons it is seeing a revival in certain contexts. When treated to meet modern fire safety standards, timber has great potential as a structural element, and is being used in everything from railway infrastructure and road bridges to residential towers buildings like Haut, in Amsterdam.

A new generation of building materials are being developed using natural vegetation like mycelium. We have been exploring the use of mycelium, developing products that range from internal structural elements and acoustic panelling to water purification products. Our research into future uses of mycelium includes use of waste from the food production process to generate these sustainable materials.


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