r='ltr'> The Green Civil Engineer: Green - So What's It Going to Cost Me?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Green - So What's It Going to Cost Me?

I have been advocating for and designing green infrastructure and LID solutions for a number of years now.  In those years one of the most common things I hear is "So what's it going to cost me?".  The assumption is always that it's going to cost more, and often they expect it to cost a lot more.  Fortunately, its often less expensive rather than more expensive. This is especially the case with civil engineering (stormwater infrastructure, grading, parking lots, landscape design, etc.).  Clients are naturally incredulous when I tell them that it's going to cost less, so their next statement is usually " Really!?, how much less?".  In answering that question I have found that "well, that depends", doesn't always fly, so I have put together some general cost comparisons for several green vs traditional design elements.

The truth is, it does depend on a number of variables and each situation will be a little different, so in each of my examples below assumptions were made that may not always apply.  For instance, the estimates do not include items that would need to be included in each scenario (pavement etc), only the differences. Nevertheless, they should form a good basis for evaluating the cost and feasibility of green options for site and infrastructure design.

Subdivision Drainage - Raingardens vs. Curb Inlets + Detention Pond(s)
This cost comparison was developed for a potential client that was developing a residential subdivision in middle TN. I was advocating for the use of raingardens and other LID techniques to manage stormwater rather than traditional drainage solutions.  The developer was incredulous and wanted to see a cost comparison, so I developed the one that follows.  The subdivision was a 50 lot subdivision with 1/4 acre lots. The road was 24' wide with curbs and a sidewalk on one side.  The traditional drainage design included curb inlets every 250' with a cross drain and pipe in the ROW that carried stormwater to a detention pond on site. The LID design replaced the curb inlets with raingardens every 300' on each side of the road.  The raingardens were approximately 300 sf in size and did not include an underdrain.  Below is a table with my approximate costs and the assumptions that I made.

I did not include the cost of land that would need to be set aside for detention or stormwater impact fees, which would add to the cost of the traditional drainage system.

Parking Lots - Pervious vs Traditional
The data for this cost comparison is drawn from a small parking lot project with space constraints.  Because of the size and shape of the property, above ground detention was not possible. The possible options included underground detention in the form of pipe or chambers or using pervious pavement (asphalt or concrete) and stone base for storage.

Commercial Site - Raingardens vs Catch Basins + Detention Pond(s)
This cost comparison is based on a 150 stall commercial parking lot.  There is room for a traditional above ground detention pond, so that is the basis for the cost comparison.  As you will see below, the costs are very close for the two options in this scenario.

These are just a few of the potential cost comparisons, but as you can see green does not always cost more.  And the costs of the traditional systems above do not consider the long term costs to communities due to the environmental damage and the increased strain on infrastructure and maintenance.  Those costs are difficult to measure but are equally important or even more important when considering the use of LID practices.

The key to the equation is to consider the whole cost of the systems involved, not just the individual components.  Sustainability is about seeing the big picture and the long view, so its imperative that we include that in the conversation when the costs of going green are discussed.


  1. Thanks for posting this to the TTU alumni newsletter as well; that is how I found your blog. I have forwarded this to my CE alumni friends and hope they and their coworkers can put it to good use with their clients and/or the public.

  2. Bob
    Maybe its time to turn this THINKING around
    What it going to cost not going GREEN.
    We have been able to deliver LEED Gold 55% less energy at No Additional Capital Cost. With at least 10% waste in the way we deliver projects it will be possible to get to Net 0 for Net 0 additional cost.
    Time to start the REVOLUTION.

    To a Lean and Green 2011 for ALL Engineers
    If you want to learn more about the LEAN journey to Net 0 please visit my blog LeanProjectDelivery

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  5. I'm actually thinking of what it's going to cost you if you are not going green. I'm not an expert on this matter, but I still suggest you consider turning things around.

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  6. Murray and John,

    I completely agree that the cost of not going green is greater than the cost of going green. The title of this blog post was intended to attract attention and the body of work was intended to show that even from a first cost perspective green does not cost more.

    Thanks for your comments.

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