The Building with Nature innovation programme has offered Wetlands International a unique opportunity to work with diverse people across disciplines and sectors. This collaboration has helped us to build vital insights about the integration of green and grey engineering solutions. By working on concrete projects that make a lasting impact on the ground, we developed exciting partnerships that were unthinkable a few years back. “We see a huge opportunity to rethink how we engineer our coasts, rivers and urban areas.”
“We see a huge opportunity to rethink the way we engineer our coasts, rivers and urban areas.”
Much of the knowledge is there. We need to take the next step: to bring the approach in the mainstream of engineering practice, thereby creating a strong foundation for a sustainable and climate-resilient world. Looking at the commitment and enthusiasm of all those involved, I do not doubt that we should be able to make it work.
The Netherlands was made by man, taken from the sea and dangerous waters: ‘Built from Nature’. We built dykes, dams and waterworks, and cultivated our land. ‘Building from Nature’ has shaped not just our landscape, but also our society.
Recently, we learned to ‘Build with Nature’ beyond ‘Building from Nature’ making much more intelligent use of natural processes. For me, the critical Dutch parties involved in this approach are organized in EcoShape, to develop and implement novel concepts.
The best ideas are generally not generated in isolation, but in discussion: together. For me, EcoShape is the network and meeting place for that discussion, offering Wageningen Marine Research valuable inspiration and access to collaboration.
“The best ideas are generally not generated in isolation, but in discussion: together.”
It is in the international playing field, where I see the greatest opportunities for EcoShape. All over the world we face the same challenges, opportunities, and issues: intense precipitation, floods, climate change, drought, and rising sea levels. The desire to live healthy lifestyles, to live and work along rivers, coasts, and deltas pose an increasing challenge. It is my conviction that EcoShape can make that difference.
Building with Nature started as a radical change in the way of thinking in coastal engineering; From that time on, the importance of ecosystems has got the full attention. Nowadays, we live in a world with 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with Equator Principles, and we are at the start of a new decade of ecosystem restoration (UN). According to the United Nations. Repairing ecosystems will solve at least 9 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
“Repairing ecosystems will solve at least 9 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals”.
The future of “Building with Nature” might become “Building Nature.” The restoration of ecosystems is an urgent need to survive on earth. That is why I think and believe that Building with Nature must not be restricted to infrastructural projects with nice ecosystems. The full monty is needed to restore or develop sustainable healthy ecosystems that can provide healthy and sustainable food production.
The EcoShape network consists of enthusiastic people who use knowledge, idealism and pragmatism to make Building with Nature the standard. The approach, doing things together, has also proven itself by increasing understanding and appreciation for everyone's profession and role through the close cooperation that is necessary to realize things. I found it quite confronting how traditional, sometimes almost caricatured, the vision of the different sectors turned out to be, including of course my own. I have learned a lot from the ecologists, and I am still very enthusiastic about the concept of the ecosystem engineers. I want to take more advantage of this in hydraulic engineering and the projects at Van Oord. The enormous challenges resulting from growth and climate change require cooperation, understanding, and action. We can achieve that with the EcoShape approach.
“The enormous challenges resulting from growth and climate change require cooperation, understanding, and action.”
As an ecologist at Witteveen+Bos, I have always been working on the natural environment: what is the ecological status of our environment, which processes determine it, can I influence these processes in the desired direction so that the ecological status improves? In this way, we continuously work on improving the quality of our environment. EcoShape has projected the same approach on hydraulic engineering projects. How can the prevailing natural processes be used to the maximum, for the benefit of the hydraulic engineering objectives and the natural environment?
“How can the prevailing natural processes be used to the maximum, for the benefit of the hydraulic engineering objectives and the natural environment?”
We have tried this in various breathtaking projects, learned a lot, and have become jointly convinced that Building with Nature should become the new normal. At Witteveen+Bos, Building with Nature has become one of seven sustainable design principles that we apply in all our projects. We contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) of the United Nations.
After having spent a career of more than 30 years at an engineering consultant in The Netherlands, I became the director of EcoShape in 2015.
The last few years truly have been among the most thrilling of my career. To contribute to the development of Building with Nature, as a process to create nature-based solutions, it is very fulfilling, knowing that by applying these solutions, we can make a significant contribution towards the Sustainable Development Goals and remain within the planetary boundaries.
It is inspiring to work with a small team of professionals from various disciplines, within a large community of dedicated experts from multiple organisations and sectors. Without this collaboration, the development of the concept would not have been possible. It has been one of the genuinely motivating aspects for most people of working in our programme.
Connecting society with science, policy and practice should be at the heart of every Building with Nature project or programme. This is one of the most valuable lessons I learned in the past twelve years. To solve challenges such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, rapid population growth and urbanisation humanely and sustainably, we need to create better solutions than before and bring transformative scientific insights more rapidly into the mainstream.
This is only possible if we work across our professional silos and with societal actors. This is the lesson I picked up from our flagship pilot in Demak, Indonesia, where top scientists were sitting side-by-side with villagers to discuss the area's challenges. NGO’s facilitated this entire process and the solutions were put into practice by engineers and contractors. We must realise that is no longer sufficient to know what to do, or how to do it. We also need to know how to make it happen.
“We must realise that is no longer sufficient to know what to do, or how to do it. We also need to know how to make it happen.”
I have been involved in the Building with Nature program since 2009. This means that the principles of Building with Nature are a natural part of my daily work. Every design deserves an integrated approach, combining multiple functions. It also means that I feel part of the Building with Nature family, which has given me a great network. There are great opportunities for HKV concerning Building with Nature, both in the Netherlands and abroad. The principles of Building with Nature are a natural part of my daily work, especially in the river landscape.
“The principles of Building with Nature are a natural part of my daily work”
In the Netherlands, as HKV we are strongly involved in the program Integral River Management: the multitude of functions in a scarce space requires adaptive cooperation. Here, Room for the River-principles serves various functions from nature, recreation, area development, and navigation. Building with Nature is more and more in demand as a solution.
I have been involved in the EcoShape network since 2008. We have been discovering, designing, trying out, monitoring and analyzing Nature-based Solutions for over 12 years. The network that has been created is permanent and has proven itself valuable in my own projects at Royal HaskoningDHV. In our Nature-based Solutions projects we now collaborate more often and more easily with knowledge institutions. Working through a system approach or based on Building with Nature is now a much sought-after method.
“Working through a system approach or based on Building with Nature is now much sought-after method.”
As a physical geographer, I have been trained to apply a systems approach and I am delighted to see that this approach now widely embraced. We have achieved that nicely in recent years.
The Sand Motor along the Dutch Delfland coast was the first project that familiarized me with the Building with Nature consortium. At the time of its construction in 2011, I worked in the scientific world, where I was involved in developing a research proposal called Nature Coast. This programme aimed to underpin the observed developments of the Sand Motor. Today I have been working for more than seven years in the world of Marine contracting. A switch that I would probably never have made without my experiences within EcoShape. EcoShape brings together a diversity of expertise, views and organizations in a way where participants are willing to look beyond the boundaries of their own perspective on the world. This provokes new connections and relationships that are normally less obvious and boost creativity and ideas. These aspects allowed us to devise, substantiate and actually implement groundbreaking solutions and with a broad range of environmental and social benefits.
“The Building with Nature consortium has shown that Nature-based Solutions can actually be built against reasonable costs.”