Societal challenge

Societal challenge

The usual design of industrial areas mainly consists of paved surfaces and fixed lawns with short grass patches and intensified mowing operations. Large paved surfaces create heat problems, especially in urban areas. This affects the health of employees and increases the costs of air-conditioning. It also aggravates the infiltration of rainwater in the soil, which causes an overload on the sewage system. Problems with water storage will most likely increase because of climate change and its associated growing number of extreme weather situations, such as is the case with short but intense rainfalls.

A division of the sewage system in combination with water storage and uncovered, ‘open soil' for infiltration could help mitigate these problems. In the Netherlands, many old and badly maintained industrial areas prevail where these problems conjugate abating real estate values. The quality of green spaces is often of subordinate value in municipalities' redevelopment plans. (see the report ‘De markt voor bedrijventerreinen' by Platform 31).

By improving the utilization of natural capital, nature and business can enforce each other. A greener terrain can enhance the perception of a company and have beneficial effects on the well-being of its employees. (KPMG 2012). Greenery also has the potential the increase the value of a real estate, for example by rendering   ‘ugly' older buildings with attractive plantations. In addition, it is important to qualitatively green more ‘gray' parts of society, like industrial areas in order to maintain biodiversity. Industrial areas can be large or small but taken together they make up a large share of the national surface and therefor are influential in the environment. Therefor several leading companies strive for ‘zero net loss' in their business model by which the ecosystem and her services are not impaired by industrial activities.



Make new plans together, make cost-benefit analyses

On industrial areas, there is always a tension between what an individual company wants and can do, and on the other hand, how the whole terrain can improve its green space. In addition, there is the municipality, the water management bodies with their policies for water and green and organizations concerned with nature and landscape. More and more often do companies get involved in broad coalition trajectories. This eases the availability of knowledge and generates creativity. Scenarios can provide input for cost-benefit analysis, which facilitates thorough decision-making while gaining wider support.

Go for quantity and quality

The greening of an industrial area is not just about the quantity of green spaces but first and foremost about the quality in terms of, for example biodiversity, strengthening the ecological network, cultural values and contribution to the functioning of the water management system. This could include the following: Ecological management of conventional green, stimulation of temporary pioneering vegetation on undeveloped land and the designation of ecological connected zones with habitat corridors and stepping-stones. The greening of buildings is also an option, with green roofs and frontages. (R. P. Snep, WallisDeVries, & Opdam, 2011). Cultural values are relevant when the terrain is situated / bordering on a culturally or historically valuable area.

Revitalization: Chances at play for green and water

With existing business and especially older terrains, ‘revitalizing' or restructuring the terrain is a good opportunity to make more ecosystem services available and to mobilize the natural capital. Dutch companies are often situated at the passage between city and rural area / nature network (eco-corridors); older terrains are also frequently found nearby canals and other waterways. Transition zones and nearby waterways contain a lot biodiversity or have the potential for developing biodiversity (Gaaff & Reinhard, 2012). The latter can be done by supporting nature networks with the creation of habitat spots for flora and fauna (‘stepping stones'), by new green elements or adaptation of existing green. The Hague center for environment (Haags Milieucentrum) presents a case of greening and compaction of an older industrial area on their website.
When the situation presents itself, choose for sufficient water storage capacity, a separate sewage system and sufficient ‘open soil' for infiltration.

New building projects: Make a green design

With new building projects on industrial terrains, the opportunity arises to integrate sustainability in all aspects of the design, inside, on and outside of buildings. The ecological value of green is part of this, as is water storage capacity, a separate sewage system and sufficient ‘open soil' for infiltration – these are important for maintaining balanced water management. Especially large industrial areas offer the chance to make a successful business case by greening the area together with adequate water regulation. In practice this could include; vegetative fences for safety, view and habitat recreation, or saving costs by adapting the drainage of water with water purification by helophyte filtering or willow vegetation.




Policies for designation and green facilitation on industrial areas include the following:

Law & regulations

  • The law ‘Wet algemene bepalingen Omgevingsrecht' (WABO) and municipal
         regulations are currently in place. In preparation phase is the environmental law,
         ‘Omgevingswet', which is awaiting approval of the Dutch upper house. This law will
          replace 26 former laws such as the Law on spatial planning (Wet Ruimtelijke
          Ordening) and the water regulations (de Waterwet). In the future, companies will only
          need to request for one single license.
  • The housing law (‘Woningwet') regulates affairs such as demands on construction of
         buildings. Installation of a green roof for example, requires that the roof is able to
         carry the weight of the soil that is added on top.
  • Professional use of pesticides in urban areas is restricted by law and stipulates 
         minimal distances to sensitive objects (e.g. houses and schools). From November
         2015 onwards, it is forbidden to use chemical pesticides on hardened surfaces, and
         from 2017, this also includes green areas.
  • Duty for caretaking of rainwater (‘Zorgplicht Hemelwater):

Owners or users are free to do with their ground or garden as they wish. However, they themselves are responsible for the processing of rainwater on their land by infiltration or drainage to the surface water. If problems with excess rainwater persist, though without one's own fault, then the municipality is responsible for accommodating appropriate drainage facilities. When infiltration is impossible because the land is fully paved, then the municipality is no longer responsible for taking adequate measures.

The options and challenges at a certain location are mainly determined by the municipal and provincial development plans. A lot of information, also locally, is available online.

Exemption Temporary Nature

An Exemption Temporary Nature is a temporary indemnity for the nature compensation obligation. It provides the opportunity to have temporary nature on set-aside land while also easing the building process by legalizing the removal of the developed nature, on the conditions that the terrain is available for at least one breeding season. These regulations are in place so that endangered species do not hinder the company's activities and building plans but also have the chance to nestle and to move on to other areas.


Over the last couple of years, the number of subsidies has been strongly reduced, therefor the chance to find a subsidy for green elements alone is rather small. In combination with provisions for sustainable energy, some options are available at provincial level and by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). If you as a company would like to proceed with greening the economy, then it could be worthwhile to join an existing Green Deals or to start one. Find practical examples in Community of Practice (CoP) Bedrijven en Biodiversiteit.



Case study ‘Compaction and greening of an industrial area'

The Hague center for Environment (‘Haags Milieucentrum') has published the report ‘Vergroening en verdichting van bedrijfsterreinen', with case study ‘Zichtenburg Kerketuinen Dekkershoek'. The report offers focal points, framework conditions and concrete measures for different types of businesses.

Company terrain Heineken

The brewery Heineken conducted research into the options for biodiversity on its terrain and consecutively realized certain green elements such as a flower field for bees and ecological management of ditches at farm sites nearby. The research, the process and costs are described in ‘Biodiversiteit op de Brouwerij: inrichting en beheer'. An example of free advice from Helpdesk Natural Capital is Heineken's question about chances for biodiversity on the brewery.  

Practical measures with more examples

The website of green-blue networks has a search function that offers hundreds of measures, with their accompanying advantages and disadvantages. The website also includes many practical examples from the Netherlands and abroad.

Temporary Nature

A good example of temporary nature on an industrial area is the harbor of Amsterdam. This is one of the first bigger pilots with temporary nature and so far, research shows positive results. See the article ‘winst door tijdelijke natuur'

Green roofs

Several municipalities developed policies for installation of green roofs. This is mostly aimed at enlarging the capacity for peak rainfalls. The organization ‘Dakwaarde' mediates between owners of roofs and potential users of those roofs. Examples of green roofs are found within different municipalities, like in Rotterdam, and in cooperation with smaller organizations such as ‘Dakdokters' and ‘De Groene Grachten' with the municipality of Amsterdam for ‘1 hectare daknatuur'.


The (former) Service Rural Area (‘Dienst Landelijk Gebied') offers an inspiring example in which Elephant grass provides for noise reduction as well as profitable biomass production. In addition, the high grass has an esthetic function because it is used to separate different sites on the industrial terrain and discloses the view on paved roads. A study done by Probos showed that it is possible to make a successful business case out of planting willow trees on large terrains. The plantation requires a minimal surface of 1 hectare in order to earn back investments within 6 years. Revenues continue for up to 20 year with a harvest each 2-3 years.