Winter 2023

Stone Living Lab Partnership Working to Scale-Up Nature-Based Approaches to Climate Adaptation in Massachusetts

By Rebecca Shoer, Education and Engagement Program Manager, and Melanie Gárate, Director of Climate Engagement, Stone Living Lab and Boston Harbor Now

The Stone Living Lab has partnered with the City of Boston in an effort to improve how the effects of climate change are addressed in the coastal city and throughout Massachusetts.

Nearly 40 percent of United States residents live in coastal areas – and these areas are at particularly high risk for the effects of climate change, such as heat islands, sea-level rise, and coastal storms.  Boston Harbor is a case in point.  Climate Ready Boston, a current initiative of the City of Boston, reports that relative sea-level rise could be 2.4 feet to 7.4 feet from the present to 2100, and average annual damages from storm-generated coastal flooding could be as much as $1.39 billion by 2070.  People of color and low-income communities face these impacts of climate change first and worst.  Historically, coastal cities like Boston and its neighbors have used “gray infrastructure,” such as sea walls, to keep water out and avoid damage from storms and surge.  However, this type of infrastructure is expensive, inflexible, and can cause unintended damage to local ecosystems; it also does not provide any social or ecological co-benefits.

The Stone Living Lab partnership is an innovative, collaborative initiative hoping to change the way that Boston and other cities adapt to climate change effects by testing and scaling-up nature-based approaches to climate adaptation.”

The Stone Living Lab partnership is an innovative, collaborative initiative hoping to change the way that Boston and other cities adapt to climate change effects by testing and scaling-up nature-based approaches to climate adaptation.  Nature-based approaches, such as salt marshes, oyster reefs, and waterfront parks, incorporate natural features into climate adaptation, rather than relying solely on the construction of engineered structures.  The Lab is a unique partnership between government agencies and non-profits, including the University of Massachusetts Boston School for the Environment, Boston Harbor Now, the City of Boston, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the National Parks of Boston.

As a “living lab,” the Stone Living Lab brings research into the real world by engaging scientists and the community in collaborative design and exploration.  The Lab partnership works along the coastline of Boston Harbor, as well as in the water itself and out among the Boston Harbor Islands.  The guiding principles of the Lab center on research, climate preparedness, education, and policy, and aim to answer questions such as:

  • How can we ensure nature-based approaches will work in weather conditions that are more volatile and unpredictable than we’ve ever experienced?
  • How can the public help lead in implementing resilience solutions, and how can we ensure these solutions help address issues of climate justice and inequality?
  • How do we engage and collaborate with the regulatory and development community to streamline permitting and financing, so that we solve these problems before it’s too late?

One key feature of the Stone Living Lab’s research is its active monitoring program.  By tracking conditions at strategic locations above and below the water throughout Boston Harbor and beyond, the Lab partnership can document changes in conditions, as well as the performance of nature-based projects.  This extensive monitoring network will establish important baseline conditions, which are critical when measuring the impacts of natural events, such as storms, as well as the impacts of Lab experiments and the long-term performance of nature-based coastal resilience projects.

The Lab’s work goes beyond scientific research, delving into policy and educational efforts.  During the startup phase of the Lab partnership, it became clear that the current regulatory and permitting structure at all levels of government were designed decades ago, before a full appreciation of the challenges and potential impacts of climate change.  The Lab engages with a number of different state agencies, exploring ways to permit and expedite reviews of research proposals.  In addition, guided by the principles of coastal resilience, the Stone Living Lab has piloted a broad range of education and outreach opportunities.  Through pop-up programs, youth engagement, and professional development opportunities for educators, the Lab aims to rebuild the relationship that residents have with Boston’s coast and deepen their understanding of the effects of climate change.

Though still a young partnership, the Lab has made great strides in bringing together passionate individuals, groups, and organizations in and around Boston, centering on nature-based approaches.  In April 2023, the Stone Living Lab will host its first in-person conference, Nature-Based Coastal Resilience in Urban Settings, highlighting research from across the region and internationally.

The Stone Living Lab hopes that its work will significantly advance the scientific knowledge of nature-based approaches, as well as advance the community support to implement those approaches in the Boston area and beyond.

Contact Info

To learn more about the Stone Living Lab, please visit: