A proposal to plant more trees to help Australia’s ageing population cope with a warmer climate will require a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to get the green light from commercial aged care providers, USC research has found.
The research, led by Professor of Urban Design and Town Planning Claudia Baldwin and published by journal Urban Policy and Research, showed that cost was one of the greatest barriers to urban greening in aged care centres.
Professor Baldwin said the study, ‘Planning for older people in a rapidly warming and ageing world: the role of urban greening’, also highlighted that centre owners required more information than is currently available to weigh up the pros and cons of investing in further foliage.
“We’ve identified multiple benefits to people’s wellbeing and mental health from planting more trees and green walls (vertical structures covered in vegetation),” she said. “But the problem, at this stage, is that there has been no monetary figure put on the benefits.
“If the world is becoming hotter because of climate change, we need to start planning now to figure out how to cool things down cost-effectively. And we need the evidence base to justify the investment in green infrastructure for the future.”
Professor Baldwin, who is the co-director of USC’s Sustainability Research Centre, said she and her colleagues, including a landscape architect, were collaborating with an aged care provider to run trials at a couple of retirement villages to study the multiple benefits of “greening”, which in turn can provide savings over the long term.
“Green infrastructure could alleviate the heat burden on Australia’s ageing population, particularly by providing shade that offers temperatures up to five degrees cooler than an unshaded area,” she said.
“Other proven benefits of having green areas include boosting biodiversity, capturing carbon, improving wellbeing, and providing better wayfinding for people with dementia.
“Then, of course, there are the savings that could be made on air conditioning if facilities are retrofitted to harness the natural ventilation introduced by trees, shade and breezes.”
“And people are more likely to stay in aged care facilities longer if they were happy and healthy, reducing the time and cost required by companies to attract new residents.”
Professor Baldwin added that many of Australia’s retirement villages built in the 1960s and ’70s were now due for refurbishment, and this work could incorporate new sustainability measures.
This research was conducted in partnership with colleagues Dr Tony Matthews of Griffith University and Prof Jason Byrne University of Tasmania.