Document Type



Published in: Sustainability, vol. 10, no. 8, 2018.


Current and future climate-related coastal impacts such as catastrophic and repetitive flooding, hurricane intensity, and sea level rise necessitate a new approach to developing and managing coastal infrastructure. Traditional “hard” or “grey” engineering solutions are proving both expensive and inflexible in the face of a rapidly changing coastal environment. Hybrid solutions that incorporate natural, nature-based, structural, and non-structural features may better achieve a broad set of goals such as ecological enhancement, long-term adaptation, and social benefits, but broad consideration and uptake of these approaches has been slow. One barrier to the widespread implementation of hybrid solutions is the lack of a relatively quick but holistic evaluation framework that places these broader environmental and societal goals on equal footing with the more traditional goal of exposure reduction. To respond to this need, the Adaptive Gradients Framework was developed and pilot-tested as a qualitative, flexible, and collaborative process guide for organizations to understand, evaluate, and potentially select more diverse kinds of infrastructural responses. These responses would ideally include natural, nature-based, and regulatory/cultural approaches, as well as hybrid designs combining multiple approaches. It enables rapid expert review of project designs based on eight metrics called “gradients”, which include exposure reduction, cost efficiency, institutional capacity, ecological enhancement, adaptation over time, greenhouse gas reduction, participatory process, and social benefits. The framework was conceptualized and developed in three phases: relevant factors and barriers were collected from practitioners and experts by survey; these factors were ranked by importance and used to develop the initial framework; several case studies were iteratively evaluated using this technique; and the framework was finalized for implementation. The article presents the framework and a pilot test of its application, along with resources that would enable wider application of the framework by practitioners and theorists.

Included in

Engineering Commons