Vegetation-Integrated Buildings

Vegetation-integrated buildings (VIBs) are a nature-based solution that involves using vegetation, such as trees and plants directly in or on buildings. Often this is for the purpose of capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Some VIBs are constructed to provide habitat and support biodiversity, others are used to manage urban stormwater or to grow urban food. Many are a combination of those. The high population, density, and land value of many cities limits the amount of ground-level urban green space available. Therefore, VIB strategies, such as green walls and green roofs, are important to increase the ecosystem services that buildings provide. Buildings can themselves become urban green spaces (Pedersen Zari et al., 2022).

Name of NbS

Vegetation-Integrated Buildings

Type of NbS

Created or constructed living ecosystems

Location

  • Urban
  • Periurban
  • Rural.
Green roof connected with surrounding green infrastructure (street trees and park). Source: Unsplash

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

Vegetation-integrated buildings often draw upon Indigenous knowledge frameworks that encompass traditional practices, wisdom, and values guiding sustainable land management and climate resilience (Harmsworth and Awatere, 2013). Indigenous communities in Te Moaananui Oceania have long practised agroforestry, which involves integrating trees, crops, and livestock on the same land. This approach improves biodiversity, soil fertility, and carbon sequestration while supporting food security and cultural values. Similar principles can be used to select species for VIBs.

Climate change benefits
  • Biomass cover loss 
  • Increased temperatures 
  • Urban heat island effect
  • Changes in phenology
  • Reduced air quality
  • Flooding

The primary climate change impact addressed by vegetation-integrated buildings is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2). Trees and plants capture CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, storing it as carbon in biomass (leaves, stems, and roots) and soil organic matter. This process helps mitigate the greenhouse effect by removing CO2, a major contributor to global warming, from the atmosphere. VIBs do contribute to carbon sequestration but the impact is fairly small relative to ground-based vegetation.

Vegetation plays a crucial role in regulating local and regional temperatures. Forests and vegetation cover provide shade, reduce surface temperatures through evapotranspiration, and create microclimates that moderate temperature extremes. This contributes to climate resilience by buffering against heatwaves and maintaining thermal comfort in ecosystems and human settlements.

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Disaster risk reduction and resilience
  • Food security
  • Waste management and sanitation
  • Energy security

One of the primary societal challenges addressed by vegetation-based carbon sequestration is climate change mitigation. By sequestering carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, vegetation helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is critical for combating climate change and its associated impacts such as extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and disruptions to ecosystems and livelihoods.

Improved community resilience fosters social cohesion, adaptive capacity, and sustainable development, reducing vulnerabilities and enhancing long-term well-being.

Some VIBs have lower energy costs due to the thermal regulation properties of green walls an roofs (Ganji et al., 2013). 

VIBs can integrate Indigenous knowledge, cultural practices, and traditional land management techniques, preserving cultural heritage and promoting intergenerational knowledge transfer. VIBs support cultural and recreational values by providing opportunities for spiritual connections, and cultural practices. Access to natural areas, parks, and green spaces promotes mental well-being, physical health, and cultural identity. As urban green space reduces, VIBs become important for human wellbeing. Indigenous knowledge, traditions, and cultural practices related to forests, landscapes, and biodiversity may be preserved and valued, strengthening cultural heritage and social cohesion (Sheweka et al., 2011).

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Climate regulation
  • Fixation of solar energy
  • Habitat provision
  • Pollination
  • Species maintenance
  • Purification

VIBs supports biodiversity conservation by restoring habitats, protecting or adding to urban wildlife corridors, acting as stepping stone habitats and promoting ecosystem health (Mayrand & Clergeau, 2018). This addresses biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. Restored ecosystems support diverse plant and animal species, promote genetic diversity, and enhance ecosystem resilience to environmental stressors. Preserving biodiversity contributes to ecosystem services such as pollination, water purification, and soil fertility, which are essential for human wellbeing and cultural practices.

Healthy vegetation supports the water cycle by absorbing rainfall, reducing runoff and soil erosion, and replenishing groundwater resources. Trees and plants contribute to water retention in soils, streamflow regulation, and watershed protection, which are essential for climate adaptation, especially in water-stressed regions.

Vegetation acts as a natural air purifier by absorbing pollutants, particulate matter, and harmful gases such as ozone and nitrogen oxides. This improves air quality, reduces respiratory health risks, and enhances environmental conditions for human well-being, particularly in urban areas affected by pollution (Price et al., 2015). It also enhances water quality by filtering pollutants, reducing sedimentation, and regulating water flows.

This NbS also promotes carbon cycling, nutrient cycling, and soil fertility, which are essential for ecosystem health and biodiversity.

Wildlife habitats, including forests, wetlands, and grasslands, provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds for wildlife, contributing to ecosystem functioning and species survival.

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Technical requirements

Choosing the right plant species is important as some species are better suited to VIBs than others. Factors to consider include growth rate, biomass production, root structure (for soil carbon sequestration), and adaptability to local conditions. Maintaining accurate records of planting activities, maintenance tasks, and carbon sequestration measurements is necessary for reporting and verification purposes, especially if the project is part of a carbon offset program or regulatory framework. Regular maintenance is required to ensure the health and growth of the planted vegetation. This includes watering, pruning, pest and disease management, and monitoring for signs of stress or damage.

Issues and Barriers

Some countries in Te Moananaui Oceania may have limited technical expertise and resources for planning, implementing, and monitoring VIB projects. Capacity building and knowledge transfer initiatives may overcome this barrier. VIBs may be more expensive to build initially and require ongoing maintenance.

Opportunities

VIBs could help Te Moananaui Oceania nations adapt to the impacts of climate change, such changes in rainfall patterns, flooding, the urban heat island effect, and biodiversity loss. Providing training, capacity building, and economic opportunities related to VIBs and ecosystem services could improve livelihoods and support local economies.

Financial case

In Te Moananui Oceania, VIBs can enhance property values, attracting premium prices and lower vacancy rates due to their sustainable features. These buildings offer long-term cost savings through reduced energy consumption and lower maintenance expenses, contributing to higher returns on investment. They may contribute to reduced flooding in urban areas which has financial benefits (Mackinnon et al., 2022). 

References
  • Ganji, H., Mohammad Kari, B., & Norouzian Pour, H. (2013). Thermal performance of vegetation integrated with the building façade. In Proceeding Conference: Enova International Congress.
  • Harmsworth, G. R., & Awatere, S. (2013). Indigenous Māori knowledge and perspectives of ecosystems. Ecosystem services in New Zealand—conditions and trends. Manaaki Whenua Press, Lincoln, New Zealand, 274-286.
  • MacKinnon, M., Pedersen Zari, M., Brown, D. K., Benavidez, R., & Jackson, B. (2022). Urban biomimicry for flood mitigation using an ecosystem service assessment tool in central Wellington, New Zealand. Biomimetics, 8(1), 9.
  • Mayrand, F., & Clergeau, P. (2018). Green roofs and green walls for biodiversity conservation: a contribution to urban connectivity? Sustainability10(4), 985.
  • Pedersen Zari, M., MacKinnon, M., Varshney, K., & Bakshi, N. (2022). Regenerative living cities and the urban climate–biodiversity–wellbeing nexus. Nature Climate Change, 12(7), 601-604.
  • Perini, K., & Rosasco, P. (2013). Cost–benefit analysis for green façades and living wall systems. Building and Environment70, 110-121.
  • Price, A., Jones, E. C., & Jefferson, F. (2015). Vertical greenery systems as a strategy in urban heat island mitigation. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution226, 1-11.
  • Sheweka, S., & Magdy, A. N. (2011). The living walls as an approach for a healthy urban environment. Energy Procedia6, 592-599.Zaid, S. M., Perisamy, E., Hussein, H., Myeda, N. E., & Zainon, N. (2018). Vertical Greenery System in urban tropical climate and its carbon sequestration potential: A review. Ecological Indicators91, 57-70.

Further resources:

Grüntuch-Ernst, A. (Ed.). (2018). Hortitecture: The Power of Architecture and Plants. Jovis Verlag.