Business as an agent in implementing green infrastructure for ecosystem services in intensive production landscapes

Dr. Wendy McWilliam, Lincoln University,

Dr. Simon Swaffield, Lincoln University,


The symposium investigates the role of businesses as agents in the regeneration of non-crop/pasture vegetation (green infrastructure (G.I.)) in intensive agricultural systems. These systems have increased production efficiency, but at significant environmental cost. G.I. can assist in mitigating impacts, but there are constraints to its conservation and restoration. Businesses play a major role in agriculture, and business models, strategies and organisations are vital forces in shaping landscapes. Hitherto, sustainability science has framed agri-businesses as central parts of environmental degradation problems, but this symposium investigates how they can be integral to solutions. 


Context and theme: Global population growth and urbanisation continue to create increasing and new types of demand for food. The intensive agricultural systems developed internationally in the decades after World War II have significantly increased food production per hectare. These systems rely on maximizing the area of often single species and exotic crops or pasture, and this has resulted in large scale removal of non-crop/pasture vegetation that once provided key ecosystem services. Intensive production systems also rely on high levels of external inputs including fertilisers, supplementary feed, water for irrigation and livestock, pesticides, herbicides, and energy which have environmental impacts. However, intensification has also degraded the regulatory ecosystem services required to filter and process the local effects of many of these inputs. Removal of tall woody vegetation, hedgerows, riparian vegetation and heathland has resulted in landscape systems that are frequently characterised by high levels of soil erosion and pollution, very low indigenous biodiversity in both land and freshwater domains, and reduced cultural services. As a consequence there is increasing public and policy concern about the cumulative environmental, public health and rural community impacts associated with intensive agricultural systems, and researchers and regulators are calling for the redesign of agriculture systems to provide multiple regulatory, supporting and cultural ecosystem services alongside production. The challenge is to identify effective strategies to achieve this.

Green agricultural infrastructure can be defined as the interconnected networks of remnant, conserved, and human created woody areas and other non-crop areas of vegetation within the land and water domains of agricultural landscapes. It has the potential to significantly mitigate many impacts of intensive farming, and provide increased support for indigenous biodiversity and cultural services, while minimizing losses of productive area. However, there are significant constraints and uncertainties in the protection and restoration of green infrastructure in intensive agricultural landscapes.

The stewards of green agricultural infrastructure have traditionally been local communities, farmers and estate managers. Over the past few decades there has been a widening of public policy initiatives in many developed countries aimed at providing financial or other measures to support or require these local agents to provide multiple landscape ecosystem services.

However farmers still face significant organisational and financial constraints to the restoration and creation of green infrastructure, and in countries heavily dependent upon agriculture there are significant limits upon the capacity of governments to fund incentives.

Business plays a major role in agriculture, in different forms and contexts, and controls large parts of the sector, and are major beneficiaries from the sustainability of landscape systems. Business models, strategies and organisations are therefore potential force in shaping green infrastructure in agricultural landscapes.

The symposium objectives are:

  1.  To explore the role of the business in promoting ecosystem services in urban and rural farming landscapes. More specifically we investigate how farm based business and agribusiness can become active agents in the creation and management of green agricultural infrastructure. We ask what private and public ecosystem services they provide, how green infrastructure contributions can be incorporated into the business models of farming systems and supply chains, and what the role of landscape science and design can be in meeting business as an agent of landscape sustainability?
  2. To identify effective business models and strategies for protecting, restoring and creating green infrastructure. The focus of the symposium is upon developed countries, but the scope is global and includes countries with a range of levels of public support for green infrastructure regeneration. Case studies will be presented from developed and developing countries, including the US, Canada, Japan, Netherlands, Denmark and New Zealand.
  3. To identify needs, opportunities and challenges for landscape science in understanding the role of business in the protection, restoration and creation of green infrastructure in intensive production landscapes.

What can participants expect to learn?

Participants will learn about the role of business in promoting ecosystem services in urban and rural farming landscapes internationally, but mostly in developed landscapes. More specifically they will learn about what green infrastructures are being promoted, their private and public ecosystem services, and their other socio-economic benefits. In addition, participants will learn how green infrastructure can be incorporated into the business models of globally connected farming systems, and the role of landscape science and design in facilitating positive business engagement in the restoration of green infrastructure.


The findings will be communicated as a co-authored academic article, and in policy briefing papers and seminars to public agencies and business organisations in the home countries of contributors. Previous IALE symposia involving these authors have led to an academic text [CUP 2010], a theme journal issue (2014) and section (2016), seminars at national and international agencies (OECD), and have informed a range of engagements with communities and businesses.