Economic Values of Metro Nature Health Benefits
This article estimates the potential annual economic values of a set of urban nature benefits associated with epidemiology and public health to range between $2.7 and $6.8 billion annually (USA).
Wolf, Kathleen L. et al. (2015). Economic values of metro nature health benefits: A life course approach. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. 14(3):694–701. doi:10.1016/j.ufug.2015.06.009
The presence of metro nature enables daily environmental interactions, and a substantial body of evidence now demonstrates that nature contact generates extensive psychosocial, cognitive, and physical health and well-being benefits. Estimates of the economic values of such benefits have lagged similar valuation efforts for environmental services (such as improved air and water quality). In this article, using a life course approach, we estimate the potential annual value of six metro nature benefits, and cautiously extrapolate to a national scale, based on best available data and research.
After extended screening and preliminary valuation exercises we validated and selected six human life course situations: birth weight, ADHD, secondary school performance, crime, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer's disease. While not a complete representation of conditions or diagnoses that may occur within the continuum of a human life, the list addresses fairly common events or health conditions experienced by human populations in cities within industrialized nations. The results section presents each benefit situation and evidence of nature-based enhancements or abatement of negative conditions.
The selected benefits then underwent a more detailed analysis to further validate our situational choices, using best available studies and economic data. Valuation foundations were derived from national data (such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]), state or regional data, or from special reports prepared by agencies or non-profit organizations. Each benefit was described in terms of potential cost savings or costs avoided, or other expressions of value. Outcomes for specific studies supporting each valuation were adapted to enable the derivation of reasonable estimations. Sources and calculations for value estimates are presented as results. We also present limitations because of the nascent nature of much of the source benefits research.
We estimate that the potential cost savings, avoided costs, and increased income range between $2.7 and $6.8 billion annually (2012 USD). Yet these values represent only a subset of benefits described in the current literature concerning urban nature experiences and health and well-being outcomes, pointing to the need for increased research concerning further valuations. We also point out challenges encountered in developing these estimates and limitations of their use. There is an urgent need to improve, expand, and integrate research methods and valuation strategies that link urban natural resources, public health, and economics. The resulting contributions to policy and programs can greatly improve urban quality of life.