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How Green Infrastructure can meet the Sustainable Development Goals

In this article, we cover how Green Infrastructure can support working towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals
© The United Nations

A useful starting point to understand the importance of Green Infrastructure are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals?

The 17 goals were adopted in 2015 by all Members States of the United Nations. They are a call for action to achieve sustainable development: to meet the needs of present communities without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own.

Each of the 17 goals is described in the banner image of this article and you can read more about them on the United Nations’ website. The aim is to achieve them by 2030 and they are further broken down into 169 targets.

With the 17 goals, Member States have recognised the need to combine economic, societal and environmental action to achieve sustainable development. The SDGs cannot be achieved in isolation. They have highlighted not only the urgency of preserving biodiversity and fighting climate change but also of fighting social and economic inequalities. From then on, research has highlighted that a healthy environment (or biosphere) supports healthy and resilient societies and economies, with the famous ‘wedding cake’ infographics.

The wedding cake representation of SDGs with biosphere at the bottom The ‘wedding cake’ of SDGs (c) Azote Images for Stockholm Resilience Centre (Click to expand)

In other words, protecting life on land and below water (SDGs 14 and 15), ensuring access to clean water for all (SDG 6) and tackling climate change (SDG 13) are fundamental actions to achieve all other social and economic goals. Or, in even simpler words: we need nature to live well now and in the future.

The link between the 17 goals and Green Infrastructure

  • the principle behind GI is to harness the benefits provided by nature, through active management of natural and semi-natural areas;
  • these benefits can be multiple and very varied, from leisure activities to supporting health, providing food or clean air, creating green jobs, and many more (we will cover this in more depth in Week 2) – and the more GI elements are connected together, the more benefits we can harness, achieving more SDGs;
  • GI also embodies the mindset of the SDGs: a partnership approach (SDG 17), whereby GI elements are important assets for communities and must be managed to maximise benefits for all stakeholders (this is something we will cover in more depth in Weeks 2 and 4).

Let’s now take a look at a practical example!

In my hometown, there is a park with a river leading to a forest outside of town. As you leave the town and enter the countryside, you see the forest is next to cultivated fields and more forests beyond.

Aerial view of town with park river and forest

This forms a network of GI elements which, if well cared for, can provide clean air through the presence of trees, water filtration through the presence of a healthy river, recreation from the park and nearby forests, food provision from the fields (and to an extent the forests), materials (wood) from the forests, social connection through the park, and perhaps even environmental education and support for healthy lifestyles (e.g. spending time outdoors)… and these are just a few examples.

You can see then how such a network of GI elements can make a massive difference for local communities whilst contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Now in 2021, with the combined climate and biodiversity crises we are facing, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is even more urgent. GI networks hold the potential to bring solutions to these challenges and to drive our societies to more sustainable economies and lifestyles.


Before fully diving into what GI is, take a step back and consider your own area and the community you live in.

How is it affected by the global challenges highlighted by the SDGs, climate change and biodiversity loss? How will it be affected in the future?

These questions might be hard to answer. Here are some websites which might help you consider the impact of these issues on your communities:

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Shaping a Sustainable Future with Green Infrastructure

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