Green Infrastructure

Green Infrastructure Cost-Benefit Resources

Costs of new and refurbished infrastructure are a major challenge for communities.Green infrastructure can be a cost-effective approach to improve water quality and help communities stretch their infrastructure investments further by providing multiple environmental, economic, and community benefits. On this page, learn more about how other communities have realized cost savings through their green infrastructure programs as well as about tools you can use to inform your own cost-benefit analysis.

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Cost Analysis

Cost comparison is the most common method for assessing the economic impacts of green infrastructure. The two basic approaches to cost analysis address:

  • only initial construction costs; and
  • life cycle costs, including planning, design, installation, operation and maintenance, and replacement. 

Both approaches ignore the differences in performance between green infrastructure and gray infrastructure. As a result, they provide an incomplete basis for decision-making.

Low Impact Design vs. Conventional Development (PDF)(46 pp, 92 K, About PDF) Exit—This report compares the construction costs of conventional and low impact development (LID) approaches for nine subdivisions in the United States and Auckland, New Zealand.

Pembroke Woods: Lessons Learned in the Design and Construction of an LID Subdivision (PDF)(9 pp, 285 K, About PDF) Exit—This case study of a 43-acre residential subdivision in Frederick County, Maryland, documents the cost savings achieved by adopting a green infrastructure approach. Cost savings were realized by:

  • eliminating the need for stormwater management ponds;
  • reducing the extent of clearing, grubbing, and paving; and
  • adding two additional lots.

Changing Cost Perceptions: An Analysis of Conservation Development (PDF)(6 pp, 130 K, About PDF) Exit—This report prepared for the Illinois Conservation Foundation and Chicago Wilderness compares the stormwater management costs of conservation development with those of conventional development. It defines conservation development as an approach that "addresses stormwater on-site by distributing water across the landscape."

Low Impact Development at the Local Level: Developers’ Experiences and City and County Support (PDF)(22 pp, 233 K, About PDF) Exit—This report by ECONorthwest focuses on two aspects of LID adoption at the local level: the experiences that developers have had with LID, and actions that local jurisdictions can take to increase LID use.   

Forging the Link, Chapter 3: Economics and LID (PDF)(40 pp, 3.5 MB, About PDF) Exit—This report by the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center documents case studies demonstrating how adopting a green infrastructure approach can lead to more cost-effective site designs and stormwater management systems.

Reducing Stormwater Costs through Low Impact Development (LID) Strategies and Practices—This EPA report summarizes 17 case studies of developments that include LID practices and compares project costs to typical costs for conventional development.   

The Economics of Low Impact Stormwater Management in Practice—Glencourt Place (PDF)(15 pp, 442 K, About PDF) Exit—This paper compares the life cycle costs of a green infrastructure approach with those of a conventional approach to a retrofit of a residential subdivision.

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Cost-Benefit Analysis

Cost-benefit analysis is more complicated than cost analysis, but also provides a more complete basis for decision-making. It considers costs as well as environmental, social, and public health outcomes of alternative management approaches. The result is more complete information on the benefits associated with different stormwater control options.  

Review this sampling of cost-benefit analyses conducted by cities and research institutions to identify a methodology that could be applied to your community.

The Economic Benefits of Green Infrastructure: A Case Study of Lancaster, PA—This case study estimates the value of several of the cost benefits of Lancaster's Green Infrastructure Plan. It highlights the importance of including the multiple benefits of green infrastructure in cost-benefit assessments and adding green infrastructure into planned improvement projects.

Case Studies Analyzing the Economic Benefits of Low Impact Development and Green Infrastructure Programs—This EPA report summarizes 13 economic benefit analyses conducted by public entities across the country to assess the effectiveness of their green infrastructure programs. The case studies represent a range of methodologies, geographic contexts, and municipal program types.

The Economics of Low Impact Development: A Literature Review (PDF)(40 pp, 429 K, About PDF) Exit—This literature review summarizes the benefits of LID, methodologies for assessing the economic impact of LID, and results of more than 50 studies.

NYC Green Infrastructure Plan: A Sustainable Strategy for Clean Waterways (PDF)(16 pp, 2.7 MB, About PDF) —In this plan released by New York City, the modeling results indicate that a combined sewer overflow (CSO) reduction strategy that combines green and gray infrastructure can yield greater reductions in CSO volumes at a lower cost than an all-gray strategy while providing more community benefits.

A Triple Bottom Line Assessment of Traditional and Green Infrastructure Options for Controlling CSO Events in Philadelphia’s Watersheds—This report compares the benefits of a green infrastructure approach to CSO control to the benefits of a traditional tunnel approach. It monetizes a range of environmental, social, and public health benefits. 

Fresh Coast Green Solutions: Weaving Milwaukee's Green & Grey Infrastructure for a Sustainable Future (PDF)(16 pp, 811 K, About PDF) Exit—This presentation by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District explains Milwaukee's goal of achieving zero sewer overflows with combined green and gray systems. It compares capital costs for different green infrastructure measures and provides a detailed summary of the multiple environmental, social, and economic benefits associated with the measures.

Municipal Forest Benefits and Costs in Five US Cities (PDF)(6 pp, 266 K, About PDF) Exit—This article describes the structure, function, and value of street and park tree populations in:

  • Fort Collins, Colorado;
  • Cheyenne, Wyoming;
  • Bismarck, North Dakota;
  • Berkeley, California; and
  • Glendale, Arizona.

Although these cities spent $13 to 65 annually per tree, benefits ranged from $31 to $89 per tree. For every dollar invested in management, benefits returned annually ranged from $1.37 to $3.09. 

Cost Benefit Evaluation of Ecoroofs 2008 (PDF)(37 pp, 2.1 MB, About PDF) —This report attempts to quantify the private and public costs and benefits of green roofs—or "ecoroofs"—in Portland, Oregon. Ecoroofs are expected to be an important part of the city’s urban strategy as it grows and density increases in the decades to come.

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Many tools are available to help communities make water management decisions.Use these resources as a starting point for initiating a discussion among community or project leaders interested in the potential advantages of green infrastructure. 

Green Infrastructure Opportunities that Arise During Municipal Operations Exit- This report provides approaches that local government officials and municipal program managers in small to midsize communities can use to incorporate green infrastructure components into work they are doing in public spaces. The document presents examples and case studies of how integrating green infrastructure methods can enhance retrofits and maintenance projects and provide other multiple community benefits.

Low Impact Development, An Economic Fact Sheet (PDF)(8 pp, 1.2 MB, About PDF) Exit—This simplified overview of a complicated topic is intended to help citizens, developers, and policy-makers have an informed discussion about the costs, benefits, and trade-offs of LID in their community. 

The Value of Green Infrastructure: A Guide to Recognizing Its Economic, Environmental, and Social Benefits (PDF)(80 pp, 3.12 K, About PDF) Exit—This guide describes the steps to quantifying and valuing many of the environmental, social, and public health benefits of green infrastructure. It includes simple, illustrative examples to assist decision-makers, planners, and communities in performing their own calculations.

Green Values National Stormwater Management Calculator—This screening-level tool developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology allows site designers to quickly compare the performance, costs, and benefits of green infrastructure practices to conventional stormwater practices.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Coastal Management —NOAA's programs and data tools for analyzing costs and benefits of green infrastructure for coastal areas.

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