Green Infrastructure Toolkit


Scaling Up: Integrating Green Infrastructure into Existing Processes

Green infrastructure in this toolkit includes strategies to manage stormwater, reduce urban heat island effects, improve air quality, and promote economic development and other sustainability goals.  Green infrastructure provides an attractive alternative and complement to traditional concrete (or “gray”) infrastructure by making paved and hard surfaces vegetated or permeable. Permeable pavements and green roofs both capture rainfall and retain it on site, keeping it out of the stormwater system, and can also provide wildlife habitat and greenhouse gas reduction benefits.1  Climate change will exacerbate stormwater runoff problems in many places due to more intense storms that could overwhelm existing infrastructure systems; green infrastructure, when installed at a larger scale and in combination with gray infrastructure, can help to manage those more intense storms.  

While many local governments begin experimenting with green infrastructure practices through pilot or demonstration projects, in order for green infrastructure to have a substantial impact on managing stormwater, it must be constructed and installed on a much larger scale. Therefore, local governments are increasingly incorporating green infrastructure practices into their existing laws, policies, plans, and processes, so that its implementation can be more systematic.

 This chapter investigates legal tools designed to integrate green infrastructure into:

  • planning tools (including green infrastructure-specific plans and comprehensive plans),
  • regulatory tools (including zoning and building codes and stormwater ordinances),
  • incentive-based tools (including grants, subsidies, and stormwater fee adjustments), and
  • government operations (efforts involving public infrastructure, land, or facilities).

These tools vary in their ability to reach new construction versus existing development and in reaching public versus private property. Effective green infrastructure programs leverage multiple tools to encourage or require green infrastructure.2  As such, it is prudent to consider each set of tools alongside the others and craft an implementation approach that incorporates many of the tools discussed in this chapter. Similarly, many of these approaches deliberately build off of pilot programs that carefully monitored demonstration projects for effectiveness in managing runoff, reducing nutrient pollution, reducing urban temperatures, and other factors. Many are therefore beginning to “scale up” with rigorous data on the effectiveness of individual projects, and are continuing to monitor on a larger scale for cumulative effectiveness.


Different types of tools can achieve different goals and will face different challenges in enactment and implementation. The following chart compares the types of tools local governments can use to integrate green infrastructure practices into their existing systems along four sets of criteria.3 

New vs. Existing Development:  some tools are better suited for incorporating green infrastructure into new development – these largely include tools that involve permitting or governmental review of some kind such as zoning. Others might also be able to influence installation on existing development – these tools would more often involve incentive-based approaches than regulatory approaches.

Public vs. Private Property: some tools will more effectively influence design and construction on private property, and others on publicly-owned land such as in the public right-of-way or surrounding public buildings. Government operations tools clearly will most directly affect public property and facilities, while regulatory tools will mainly influence private property. Some tools will be able to impact both types.

Administrative: some tools will require higher levels of organization, coordination across agencies, and participation from residents or other private actors to be successful. Because most local governments are starting from some kind of existing program, they must consider how current policies fit with their adaptation and other goals. The “Administrative” criterion captures how complex each tool is along these dimensions.

Legal: Local governments will need to consider which tools fall within the authority that agencies already possess and which may require further granting of authority from either the local legislative body or the state legislature. In addition, certain methods or tools could conflict with current state or local law. To improve current laws, governments can consider consolidating the laws on a particular topic or revising existing ordinances to better enable green infrastructure practices to become regular practice in that jurisdiction. We have attempted here to identify potential legal obstacles for each local government to consider.

The following table compares the types of policy tools that the rest of the chapter describes in order to provide a starting place for local governments to begin to make their own decisions about how to integrate green infrastructure into their own systems and usual processes. It is not a sufficient guide to the intricacies of every potential cost and benefit, nor does it answer specific questions about each jurisdiction’s local law, politics, and geography. Each of the sections of this chapter will explores the methods in more detail, including evaluation of how local governments might implement each one.

Options for Integrating Green Infrastructure into Existing Processes

Planning Tools

Local governments are increasingly creating plans for their green infrastructure programs and incorporating green infrastructure into other planning documents such as comprehensive plans and general resilience plans. Incorporating green infrastructure goals and practices into those plans can shape local governments’ interventions to be as highly effective and strategic as possible, instead of installing green infrastructure on a more ad-hoc basis.

Regulatory Tools

Regulatory tools include requirements set in zoning or building codes or stormwater retention ordinances, mandating action by private property owners. In many jurisdictions, stormwater retention ordinances establish retention requirements and then lay the foundation for other regulations that mandate green infrastructure as a specific set of practices to meet those retention requirements.

Incentive-Based Tools

While mandates are the most certain method to change behavior, both financial and development incentives to build more green infrastructure can be important tools as well. Both types of incentives can stand alone or can accompany mandates; unlike mandates, they can influence stormwater management practices on property that was not otherwise subject to zoning or building code requirements (i.e., existing development not planned for renovation). They therefore can be a critical tool for highly-developed municipalities to spur change on private property.

Government Operations

Unlike regulatory and incentive-based tools designed to influence private landowners, local governments have much greater discretion and control over municipal operations. Green infrastructure can be incorporated into processes and plans governing public land, such as street design standards governing road construction, capital planning processes guiding public investment, and facilities management governing construction of public buildings and on public land outside of the streetscape such as parks or recreational areas.

  Effective Monitoring of Pilot Sites Planning Tools