We deliver communication and business management solutions through strategic advice and planning, issues management, creative communication campaigns, community consultation and executive training programs.


Mother Nature delivers services?

Have you heard of natural asset management? I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t really know what it was all about. Then, as I spoke to some of the key people involved in the Municipal Natural Asset Initiative (MNAI), I was more in a state of shock that something so obvious has been missed for so long. I know how easy it is to take the things we enjoy every day for granted – beautiful forests, amazing mountains, gorgeous lakes and rivers, and stunning oceanfront landscapes. When it comes to nature in B.C., we seem to have it all. But I had never thought about all this amazing nature in the context of services being delivered in a community.

Essentially, it became clear as I worked on both feature stories in Exchange that local governments are relying on nature for a number of services, but they may not fully understand the scope of the services or the implications if those natural areas are degraded. I’m also really impressed that the Town of Gibsons is the pioneer leading this important insight into the value of preserving nature to secure sustainable, resilient services. It all started with the Gibsons aquifer, and now the world is watching and learning from work being done in our province.

It seems like these are just early days in the study of natural assets in the context of the services they provide, but it’s also likely that we may only be skimming the surface right now. I found it interesting that researchers who examined tree cover in 10 large cities found that tree canopy provides those communities with an average of $500 million annually in benefits like reducing air pollution, improving water management and lowering the “heat island” effect. Those are significant impacts that in the past may have appeared to be too intangible to measure but are now being quantified in terms that are relatable and can support decision-making, such as when planning neighbourhoods or establishing tree protection bylaws.

I suppose it’s not surprising to anyone that Mother Nature is a lot better at handling weather impacts than what we can design and build. But what is more surprising is that the evidence from Gibsons and other MNAI pilot communities shows that it consistently costs less to expand and maintain natural assets than to build and maintain engineered options. So nature is proving to be more resilient and more cost-effective. This is particularly critical as communities across Canada face the challenge of their aging infrastructure, budget constraints to maintain or expand engineered assets, and continued pressure from more severe weather events and related impacts such as the wildfires and floods experienced this summer. Now local and regional governments just need to find out how to leverage these natural advantages in their local communities.

With work being done by Gibsons, MNAI and other researchers, there is a growing set of tools, expanded research, new policy direction and increased awareness about natural assets as part of core service delivery. With more communities joining MNAI pilot projects, there will continue to be more studies, more evidence and more tools to assess and quantify natural assets so that they can be embedded in local and regional asset management planning.

The next time I get asked about natural asset management, I’m glad I’ll know a lot more about what it’s all about and the tremendous potential it offers our communities.


Leave a Reply