Nature-based solutions (NbS) is an umbrella term for interventions that are designed with nature to restore ecosystems, reverse biodiversity loss, manage water and tackle the negative effects of climate change on infrastructure and society.  

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines NbS as ‘actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits, with common societal challenges cited as being climate change, food security, disaster risks, water security, social and economic development as well as human health.’ 

Nature-based solutions focus on the protection, sustainable management and restoration of both natural and modified ecosystems, benefiting biodiversity and human well-being. Nature-based solutions promote healthy ecosystems, and should support adaptation to climate change, reduce risks of natural disasters, improve food and water security, reduce harm to biodiversity loss and protect human health.  

At Arup, we see this as a vital challenge to traditional ways of thinking and working. To embrace nature-based solutions is to swap the ‘always build more’ ethos of the past for more imaginative and sustainable choices, in form, design and materials, recognising that any intervention we make has far reaching implications for the world around us.  

Mark Fletcher, Global Water Leader commented, "In our work, this concept has proven to be incredibly practical and effective.  From developing sponge cities which use natural interventions to soak up water, reduce risk and improve water quality, to regenerative land management, making land use increasingly more sustainable."

There is growing recognition that nature-based solutions, along with tactics like green finance and the circular economy, will be critical to sustainable economic development. Indeed, it is estimated that a third of the climate mitigation measures needed to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement could be provided by nature-based solutions. 
Nature-based solutions take many forms. From reintroducing mangrove swamps to provide an adaptation response for coastal erosion, to reforesting with native tree species to soak up carbon and reduce flood risk, NbS are a means of investing in and maintaining natural and social capital. As a new development mindset, we are already finding that nature-based solutions offer clients across private and public sectors a way of improving their social responsibility and brand reputation at a time when consumers are demanding more sustainable decision making.