Traditional (or grey) infrastructure development activities tend to cover large areas with impermeable surfaces like roads, buildings, and other physical structures. These developments place greater pressure on municipal services like stormwater and wastewater management because rainwater cannot infiltrate into the ground. This has caused a need for innovation in stormwater management practices and has created a push for what is known as green infrastructure.
In general, green infrastructure can be applied to more activities than just stormwater management, as it encompasses any form of physical infrastructure that exhibits positive environmental attributes. This can include green energy infrastructure such as solar panels and smart grid transmission systems, bike lanes, and living vegetative technologies like constructed wetlands, stormwater ponds, and rain gardens. This last form of green infrastructure, developing networks of open spaces and natural areas, is becoming a more common way to naturally manage stormwater, reduce flooding risk, and improve municipal water quality.
Further research suggests that water and waste management activities will grow over the next few years, with 80% of new positions being labourers and operators.
Infrastructure replacement for roads, sewers, water mains, treatment plants, buildings, arenas, parks, and other municipal services represent a large portion of municipal spending (One kilometre of highway can cost as much as $1,000,000). The movement from “grey” to “green” infrastructure will need to make economic sense to be successful. As with any shift of thinking it will take innovators to demonstrate the value of such a shift. Usually the shift requires a financial incentive beyond the simple payback based on energy savings.