23 January 2023
Maryam Arshad, Sustainability and Energy Analyst, Longevity Partners
Brownfield sites are typically described as derelict, contaminated, and abandoned areas of land that are mostly seen as an “urban problem” because of the complications and costs that are likely to be incurred for the resuscitation of such areas after years of inactivity. However, repurposing such land, as an alternative to developing on greenfield sites, presents multiple benefits for developers, the environment, and for local communities. For this reason, brownfield revitalisation is becoming an increasingly attractive opportunity for stakeholders and investors.
Benefits of brownfield revitalisation
Brownfield sites are quite location-efficient due to their prevalence in existing developed communities that have walkable streets, easy access to transportation, nearby commercial areas, and mixed land uses. Redeveloping such sites can considerably decrease the strain on existing stormwater and transport infrastructure and can help mitigate the associated emissions related to it.
Most industrial brownfields often have heavy solvents and chemicals present in the soil, and exposure to such contaminants is linked to severe health risks. Therefore, environmental clean-up of such sites can drastically improve the environment of the area as well as public health.
Brownfield renewal reduces the need to develop greenfield sites, for which the development and infrastructure costs could be much higher, given they’re often constructed at the periphery of urban areas, rather than existing densely populated locations. Avoiding construction of greenfield land also enables the preservation of vegetated area and soil, prevents urban sprawl, and minimizes further changes to the climate.
Furthermore, investment into remediated brownfields can be offset fairly quickly by attracting businesses and creating jobs. This can also help improve the economic conditions of a community and create safer conditions, which is particularly important since the groups living nearest to brownfields are typically vulnerable and low-income.
Climate-smart decisions for brownfield revitalisation
Given the urgency of the climate crisis, it is becoming increasingly important to put climate change at the forefront of each real estate decision. Like other sustainable initiatives, brownfield redevelopment can help cities reach their climate change mitigation goals and create climate resilient communities. Results of a recent study showed that brownfield redevelopment can offer 14% annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction potential for a given city. It is also important to consider climate change mitigation and adaptation in brownfield sites, as most members of vulnerable communities and low-income groups live near these areas. These populations are expected to bear the brunt of climate catastrophes due to absence of resources and their lack of capacity to respond to such conditions. Therefore, the development of brownfield sites can significantly improve their ability to adapt to the changing conditions and avoid further damages from climate-related events.
Considering climate change in such projects requires a recognition of issues that would affect the site and its surroundings. This includes considering factors such as: sea-level rise that could affect the long-term suitability of the land; determining the impact of rising temperatures on the toxicity of site contaminants; or considering the appropriate type of vegetation on site that can be supported as climate conditions worsen. This can be carried out during the initial stages, through risk assessments and environmental site assessments considering historical and projected climate-related impacts, and evaluating vulnerabilities and determining potential resilience of existing elements. Early evaluations also facilitate future decisions related to land-use, zoning and building codes that increase resiliency.
Another factor to consider is whether the existing site is empty or contains properties that would need to be retrofitted or demolished. This is important as developing on an empty brownfield or retrofitting an existing one will not emit as many GHGs as would demolition. This is due to the type of equipment used during this process, as well as the carbon intensive method of transporting considerable quantities of debris to landfill sites. Instead, deconstructing a building, instead of demolishing it, can prove to be a more environmentally friendly and lower-emission method for unusable brownfield properties. This is because deconstruction consists of pulling apart building components piece by piece to allow for material recovery and prevent most parts of the building from going into landfills, thereby also reducing the need to extract raw materials for construction.
A critical aspect of brownfield revitalisation is the remediation and clean-up of existing land; this process can also include climate change resilience in its processes through catering to the environmental impacts by treating soil in situ and avoiding the removal of contaminants or even reducing waste generation, using renewable sources of energy, and managing material use. In addition to these mitigation methods, it is also imperative to consider the site’s vulnerability towards climate change that may potentially impact the resiliency of a clean-up.
It is also important to recognise that brownfield redevelopment is a time intensive process. Therefore, developing interim use for the site before it is cleaned and redeveloped can tackle the ongoing decay and demise of the property, and address the negative impacts of harsh weather events. This can potentially be carried out by creating community gardens, farmers markets, using the site for public events, or even creating temporary parks.
The final stage of construction or retrofit should consider green infrastructure for emission reduction and to increase the resilience of the new built asset. This could include green roofing, urban tree canopies, rainwater harvesting, redirection of downspouts, bioswales, permeable pavements and incorporating energy efficiency methods. Incorporating these interventions can help to combat changes in the climate and subsequently increase the resiliency of the properties.
Eventually, adopting climate-centric methods for brownfield revitalisation can prove essential , not only for climate change mitigation and adaptation, but also for building resilient communities by creating healthier environments and improving access. This also fares well for green investors who see improved economic conditions of communities after revitalisation efforts, thereby resulting in increased financial returns.
How can Longevity Partners help you?
Here at Longevity Partners, we can help steer you to make climate-smart decisions by identifying and quantifying the climate risks for your assets and providing relevant recommendations and strategies. We also provide expertise on sustainable design approaches and green building certifications for assets under construction that could help mitigate the climate impact of your property. You can find more information on our services here.
Climate change mitigation potential of contaminated land redevelopment: A city-level assessment method. Available From: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652617323648
Climate smart brownfields manual. Available from: https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2021-06/documents/final_climate_smart_brownfields_manual_6-10-21_508_complaint.pdf
Brownfield redevelopment as a measure for climate changes mitigation. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270273854_Brownfield_redevelopment_as_a_measure_for_climate_changes_mitigation
The management of brownfield redevelopment. Available from: https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/754171468295822120/pdf/550090WP0P118011PUBLIC10brownfields.pdf
Environmental benefits of brownfield redevelopment. Available from: https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2021-01/documents/environmental_benefits_of_brownfields_redevelopment_final_560-r-20-001_-_508_compliant_0.pdf
Demolition vs deconstruction. Available from: https://sustainable-earth.org/demolition-vs-deconstruction/
Redeveloping brownfield land and public health. Available from: https://apolitical.co/solution-articles/en/redeveloping-brownfield-land-and-public-health
4 key benefits of brownfield redevelopment. Available from: https://www.fehrgraham.com/about-us/blog/4-key-benefits-of-brownfield-redevelopment-fg