Report: Business opportunities for sustainable coastal and river engineering

An ecosystem oriented approach to protecting our coasts and waterways can offer great business opportunities, concludes the final report of the Climate-KIC project Working with Nature.

The protection of our delta and coastal areas is a constantly growing concern. An ecosystem oriented approach is to be preferred over traditional civil engineering. It is not only innovative and sustainable, but also offers great business opportunities.

The Climate-KIC project, with partners from three European countries, was coordinated from Wageningen University

Sustainable alternative

The world market for civil engineering in delta and coastal areas is €120 billion, most of which is spent on traditional civil engineering, such as the building of dams and dykes.

But while the industry continues to focus on hard infrastructure, climate change is driving an urgent need for more resilient and adaptive alternatives, such as the ‘Working with Nature’ approach.

According to project lead Erik van Slobbe, senior researcher at Wageningen University, it “offers a strategy to counter the threat of sea-level rise, floodings and extreme events, as well as an opportunity for  innovations for climate adaptation.” 

Cost reductions

Van Slobbe: “By matching the forces of nature in  river and coastal systems with human engineering for flood protection and urban development, cost reductions of up to 40% can be delivered compared to typical dyke constructions.” Therefore, Working with Nature initiatives are expected to be developed in the future on both European and global levels. 


Yet, timing is crucial, according to Van Slobbe: “It is a fast growing market. If we do not make use of the working with nature approach, we will lose market potential. In Asia business opportunities as well as environmental awareness in delta, river and harbour areas are growing.”

“The Dutch have always been famous for classical engineering, such as building dams and dykes. But delta-works such as the Oosterscheldekering, in retrospect, turn out to have been sub-optimal in the context of climate change, considering they will have to be replaced within 20 years,” he said.

Van Slobbe: “What we need is a mix of innovative techniques, that are sustainable and cost-effective at the same time. An example is a huge sand nourishment along the Dutch coast, called the ‘Zandmotor’ (sand engine), creating benefits for flood defence maintenance, ecology, recreation and cost reductions.”

European network

Climate-KIC partners from different European countries, from the academic world, consultancy and industry were involved  in the project.

The resulting trans-disciplinary collaboration created an extra  dimension, according to Van Slobbe, caused by a diversity of experiences and knowledge.

Van Slobbe: ‘The collaboration, especially the field visits to each other’s working areas, turned out to be extremely fruitful for acceleration of our thinking and development of this eco-innovation for climate adaptation.’

Click here to download the full report.