S1 E9 – Collaborating with Industry to Promote Natural Infrastructure

Air Date: October 21, 2020

About This Episode

The growing global population is putting a lot of pressure on the world’s natural resources and its natural infrastructure – the forest, prairies, agricultural lands, estuaries, coasts, and wetlands that we all depend on. Protecting and restoring the health of our natural infrastructure is paramount if we want to continue to enjoy the many economic, environmental and social benefits that it provides. In this episode, of the Engineering With Nature® Podcast, we’re talking with two people who believe that sustainable natural infrastructure is critically important, and they are leading their organizations and others in taking positive action to promote natural infrastructure solutions as part of standard practice, rather than as an afterthought or add on.

Don McNeill is Caterpillar’s Earthmoving Division Business Development Manager and Director of the Natural Infrastructure Initiative (NII) for Caterpillar – the world’s largest construction equipment company. Caterpillar is making sustainable progress possible, driving positive change on every continent. Dr. Mike Donahue is the Vice President of Water Resources & Environmental Services at AECOM, an American multinational engineering firm, which is recognized globally for its excellence in infrastructure design and engineering consulting. AECOM is promoting natural infrastructure with their clients and identifying opportunities to incorporate it in project designs. In this podcast, we talk about their efforts to find more sustainable infrastructure solutions that incorporate the principles and practices of Engineering With Nature, and therefore, contribute to its evolution.

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co., Caterpillar customer and NII member, utilizes one of their Cat D7E’s to perform beach nourishment by beneficially using dredged sediments.

To put the infrastructure challenge in perspective, Don talks about a recent McKinsey Institute study that suggests approximately $3.7 trillion a year is needed in global infrastructure investment to adapt to population growth and sustainability goals. Unfortunately, only about $2.5 trillion a year is currently being invested. Don believes that increased natural infrastructure investments, with its cost-effective solutions and multiple benefits, can help shrink that $1.2 trillion gap. This thinking underlies the Natural Infrastructure Initiative (NII), launched in 2017 by Caterpillar.

NII brings together a group of companies and organizations to promote the use of natural infrastructure projects that advance economic vitality, environmental health and safety in communities. Membership includes the following organizations: AECOM, Brown & Root, Caterpillar, Dawson & Associates, Ducks Unlimited, Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, The Nature Conservancy, The University of Georgia and recently, Conservation International.

NII’s objectives include: creating awareness to support the benefits and uses of natural infrastructure; growing investments, active projects and consideration of projects that embed natural infrastructure thinking; developing and promoting new tools, processes, and capabilities to support natural infrastructure uses and investments; and advocating for policy and legislation to increase the opportunities, considerations and ultimately the quantity, of natural infrastructure projects.

Salt marsh restoration in U.S., Photo Credit: NOAA

These objectives are well aligned with the forward-looking approach of EWN. Mike talks about AECOM’s work with the USACE on nature-based, engineering pilot projects and their collaboration on the development of the Natural Infrastructure Opportunities Tool (NIOT), which is a tool for sharing information and identifying opportunities for developing on-the-ground natural infrastructure solutions.

As Don and Mike emphasize, the ultimate goal, is to see natural infrastructure solutions become institutionalized in the analysis of project options rather than an afterthought. Sometimes built infrastructure is the right solution, sometimes natural infrastructure is best and sometimes a hybrid solution combining both will be the most effective. Don notes, “when we’re talking about natural infrastructure, this is an ‘AND’ and not an ‘OR’.” The trend toward greater acceptance of natural infrastructure solutions will continue and grow.

Episode Guests

VP of Water Resources and Environmental Services, AECOM

Director of Natural Infrastructure Initiative, Caterpillary, Inc.


Engineering With Nature; EWN; NII; Natural Infrastructure Initiative; Caterpillar; AECOM; dredging; beneficial use of dredged sediment; natural infrastructure; natural and nature-based features; NNBF; nature-based solutions; ecological engineering; wetlands creation, restoration and protection; ecosystem restoration; flood risk management; collaboration; stakeholder engagement; coastal resilience; community resilience.

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