NetworkNature: Connecting Experts for Climate Protection and Sustainability

Steinbeis offers platform for exchanging views on nature-based solutions, projects, and best practice

A nature-based solution (NBS) is the term used by the EU to refer to natural or newly created processes that leverage the positive benefits of nature and intact ecosystems to foster sustainable development, particularly in cities. Such solutions will be crucial for implementing the European Green Deal and Biodiversity strategies. Following a call for tenders issued by the European Commission, Steinbeis 2i and a consortium of four further partners were asked to work on the NetworkNature project. The Steinbeis experts are helping to set up an NBS platform and will be providing support with its launch by developing new NBS business models.

It’s a hot summer’s day in the city. To escape the intense heat you decide to seek refuge under trees in a park – sound familiar? Above you, a green canopy of foliage opens up and you immediately notice the drop in temperature. We owe this cooling effect to shadowing, evaporation of water and photosynthesis. Plants extract heat from their environment and convert CO2 into oxygen, which we breathe in. It’s a sensory experience that shows how important plants and their unique processes are in our lives.

Sustainable urban development, restoring degraded ecosystems, climate change mitigation, and adapting to climate change were already central to the work carried out by a European expert group on “NBS and renaturing cities,” which met regularly as part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 program. In December 2020, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment joined forces with the EU and other high-profile international stakeholders to organize a Green Deal event aimed at sending a clear signal:

Protecting intact and restoring degraded ecosystems must be a central element of both the European Green Deal and international policy in the EU. Without NBS’s, neither climate protection and adaptation goals, nor the preservation of biodiversity will be achievable.

NBS’s pursue multiple goals, simultaneously offering ecological, economic, social, and cultural benefits. They leverage the positive benefits and influences of intact ecosystems. For example, they help protect and restore woodland, peatland, and soil, they pave the way for deforestation-free supply chains, and they allow nature reserves for endangered species to be expanded.

All of these measures have an equally positive impact on a slew of further sustainability goals.

Urban forests protect the climate and people 

Steinbeis 2i has been involved in the NetworkNature project since the middle of last year. The aim is to establish a platform not only for pulling together recent research results, examples of best practice, and information, but also to promote networking. Resources offered online will be supplemented with events, sources of know-how, and recommended areas of action for certain target groups. Every six months a different focal topic will be featured. The platform concept is based on a community of more than 30 EU projects, which has already allowed knowledge gaps to be plugged and good examples to be shared.

One example of a city that has already become involved in a European urban forestation research project is Gelsenkirchen. Its focus lies in the kind of arboricultural green infrastructure found in forested parks, urban woodland, and trees in public and private spaces. Such green infrastructure is massively important for the natural ecosystem, the climate, sustainable urban development, and human health. The focus of the research work and examples of best practice in Gelsenkirchen lies in an area of woodland on industrial land in the Rheinelbe district of the city, as well as a biomass park at the former Hugo colliery.

Gelsenkirchen is hoping urban woodland will bring about infrastructure changes resulting in social and ecological benefits.

Climate protection needs strong networks

By offering different ways to forge networks, receive training, and participate in events, Steinbeis 2i is encouraging different stakeholders to get in touch with new target groups.

For example, it offers a matchmaking area to allow project partners to offer services to a variety of target groups, including business leaders, managers of natural resources, landowners, urban planners, construction planners, and young people.

One such example was The Nature of Cities (TNOC) Festival on February 22-26, 2021, which offered new ways of looking at things and looked beyond the horizon at radical cities of the future.

The virtual festival was organized in all regional time zones and staged in multiple languages, offering different ways to link local ideas with concepts on a global scale, adopt a much wider perspective, and appeal to a wider audience than was possible in the past in face-to-face situations in a city.

A platform for local, regional, and international collaboration

Steinbeis 2i GmbH is working on the NetworkNature project with four other partners: ICLEI Europe – Local Governments for Sustainability (Germany), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (Switzerland and Belgium), BiodivERsA (France), and Oppla (Netherlands). The team’s expertise in sustainability, research, business strategy, public policy, and communications

is well equipped to promote the expanding global community working on nature-based solutions. The goal is to scale up activities, drive NBS implementation and expansion, and provide access to resources, projects, examples of best practice, and different tools from a single source.

It will also be important to enter into dialog with political decision-makers in various areas with the aim of identifying solutions to the challenges of the Green Deal on a local, national, and European level.The cornerstones for improving climate protection and achieving the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 will be laid by biodiversity in urban areas, sustainable agriculture, controls on air pollution, and sustainable travel solutions. The project partners will bring together researchers, entrepreneurs, and experts in industry (engineering, construction, urban planning, landscape planning, natural resource management) who have already developed promising solutions in this area and offer the potential to boost communication in the scientific community. This should also make the topic more accessible to the general public.


Support for SMEs

Steinbeis 2i is particularly eager to reach out to European SMEs by offering market assessments and support with the development of new business models, for example for manufacturers of building facades and suppliers of roof greening, tree planting, urban water, or urban farming services. To stimulate co-creation initiatives and the processes of internationalization, training courses are being designed and companies are being put in touch with investors.


Anette Mack (author)
Senior Manager for Public Relations
Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum (Stuttgart)

Matthieu Grosjean (author)
Project Manager Smart Cities, Transport, Logistik und Elektromobilität
Steinbeis 2i GmbH (Stuttgart)