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Oyster Reef Restoration Reef installations along Coffee Island. © Beth Maynor Young

Transforming Business Practices


Integrating Natural and Conventional Infrastructure

In September 2014, The Nature Conservancy and CH2M HILL announced an exciting 5-year collaboration, bringing together a global engineering leader and world’s largest conservation group, to combine their expertise in an effort to advance urban conservation, secure water and reduce coastal and inland flood risks.

As The Nature Conservancy continues to look for innovative ways to address pressing environmental issues like storm preparedness, fresh water access and adapting to the effects of climate change –working with sectors that complement our expertise is a crucial element to achieving success. This non-exclusive collaboration with CH2M HILL is an important next step towards putting natural infrastructure on the menu as we work to increase our resilience to a changing climate and build a more sustainable future.

The Challenge:

The planet faces powerful systemic challenges. Both natural ecosystems and human-made infrastructure, require creative new solutions to address the intertwined and increasing challenges of a rising and urbanizing population, overtaxed natural resources and a changing climate.

The Opportunity:

Natural systems offer a suite of services to people that can compliment, or in some cases replace conventional infrastructure. Healthy oyster and coral reefs can help protect coastlines from wave damage and erosion; wetlands help process pollutants and protect against flooding; and urban trees and green spaces can filter storm water, reduce flooding, and improve air quality.

Evaluating the capabilities and benefits of natural infrastructure – such as reefs, wetlands and urban green spaces – alongside built structures, such as breakwaters, seawalls and levees – can offer engineers, planners and communities the broadest possible menu of options in any given place. The goal is to achieve the most efficient, flexible and cost-effective blend of solutions for communities.

Key Focus Areas and Geographies:

The collaboration between the Conservancy and CH2M HILL will focus on three key areas:

  • reducing community risks associated with climate change and extreme weather;
  • securing freshwater through stronger source-protection;
  • and increasing urban conservation.

The collaboration will initially focus on four key US geographies: the West coast; the Mid-Atlantic seaboard most impacted by Hurricane Sandy; the Upper Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico—with the goal of learning together, and continuing to promote the viability of natural infrastructure solutions to some of our greatest sustainability challenges.

A History of Working Together:

This collaboration has evolved from a number of previous engagements between the Conservancy and CH2M HILL in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most notable being a project to build oyster reefs and other natural habitats to protect aging oil and gas pipelines, while providing coastal ecosystem benefits.

The organizations will share their expertise and resources to pursue new joint efforts on the ground in key regions, and evaluate, test and publish new scientific findings and associated business cases for integrating natural infrastructure with conventional infrastructure, which are expected to show the way toward new design and building practices.