The potential of green infrastructure to meet societal and environmental needs

Project Details


There is great interest in the potential for Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) to substitute for or complement conventional ‘grey’ infrastructure. This could include:  

  • Afforestation and changes to land management practices to reduce flood risk, substituting for conventional flood defences;  

  • Creation of wetlands to enhance the recharge of groundwater supplies, substituting for dams and reservoirs; 

  • ‘Blue-green’ infrastructure in cities to help address the risks of surface water flooding, substituting for piped urban drainage;  

  • Mangrove and coastal ecosystem restoration to protect against storm surges and hurricanes, substituting for coast protections;  

  • Use of vegetation and restoration of uplands to purify water, substituting for water treatment.  

As well as providing ecosystem services that may substitute for ‘grey’ infrastructure, these Nature-Based Solutions provide multiple co-benefits, including carbon sequestration, natural habitats and spaces for recreation. There is a growing number of examples of implantation of these NBS, though the evidence for their effectiveness usually comes from relatively small case studies.  

The Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium has over the last ten years developed a unique modelling capability, called NISMOD (Hall et al., 2016), for simulating infrastructure systems in the UK and in several other countries around the world, including St Lucia and Ghana.

Aims of the Project

We wish to take our research on infrastructure systems a significant step further by incorporating Nature-Based Solutions as an infrastructure option and comparing the costs and benefits of NBS with ‘grey’ infrastructure. We would like to conduct a large-scale assessment so we can compare national infrastructure plans with integrated pathways that incorporate NBS to the greatest possible extent. We wish to demonstrate how nature can be preserved and restored whilst delivering the infrastructure services that people need and plotting a pathway of climate-compatible development.

Methods to be used

The research will involve analysis of the evidence for the effectiveness of the full range of NBS and then development of methodology to identify how and to what extent NBS might substitute for or complement conventional grey infrastructure investments. We will examine ways of quantifying the costs and benefits of NBS alongside grey infrastructure. We will identify a large-scale domain, which may be at national or continental scales, and apply spatial optimisation methodology to incorporate NBS in infrastructure investment programmes. 

Specialised skills required

The project will involve a combination of evidence review, geospatial analysis, decision analysis and multi-objective optimisation. It will suit students from any quantified background, including environmental sciences, engineering or economics. Students should be able to demonstrate aptitude for computer modelling and geospatial analysis, and enthusiasm to address real-world problems of great policy significance. 


  • Hall, J.W., Tran, M., Hickford, A.J. and Nicholls, R.J. (eds.) The Future of National Infrastructure: A System of Systems Approach, Cambridge University Press, 2016. 

  • Kapos, V., Wicander, S., Salvaterra, T., Dawkins, K., Hicks, C. 2019. The Role of the Natural Environment in Adaptation, Background Paper for the Global Commission on Adaptation. Rotterdam and Washington, D.C.: Global Commission on Adaptation. 

  • Dadson, S. J., Hall, J. W., Murgatroyd, A., Acreman, M., Bates, P., Beven, K., Heathwaite, L., Holden, J., Holman, I., Lane, S. N., O’Connell, E., Penning-Rowsell, E., Reynard, N., Sear, D., Thorne, C. & Wilby, R. 2017. A restatement of the natural science evidence concerning catchment-based ‘natural’ flood management in the UK. Proc. of the Royal Society of London Series A Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences, 473 (2017): 20160706. DOI: 10.1098/rspa.2016.0706 

  • Hall, J.W. Using system-of-systems modelling and simulation to inform sustainable infrastructure choices, IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine, DOI:10.1109/MSMC.2019.2913565. 

  • Hall, J.W., Thacker, S., Ives, M.C., Cao, Y., Chaudry, M., Blainey, S.P. and Oughton, E.J., Strategic analysis of the future of national infrastructure, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers: Civil Engineering, 170(1) (2017): 39-47. DOI: 10.1680/jcien.16.00018 

  • Thacker, S., Adshead, D., Fay, M., Hallegatte, S., Harvey, M., Meller, H., O’Regan, N., Rozenberg, J. and Hall, J.W. Infrastructure for Sustainable Development, Nature Sustainability, 2 (2019):324–331. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-019-0256-8. 

Please contact Jim Hall  and Nat Seddon  if you are interested in this project