Returning to Sustainable Return on Investment

This blog post was authored by GTECH’s Research & Policy Intern, Lilli Kashef Hamadani. Email Lilli at

Returning to Sustainable Return on Investment

Measuring the Social, Environmental, and Economic Impacts of the URA LandCare Program

GTECH has been working on evaluating its programs through a Sustainable Return on Investment (SuROI) methodology. You might remember when our intern, Kate, wrote about SuROI lingo and shared the results of GTECH’s first SuROI analysis, which measured the social and ecological value of our ReClaim McKeesport Ambassador Program. Now we are working on developing a return on investment report for the URA LandCare program. GTECH has been conducting this research to measure LandCare’s impact on community members, contractors, and the City.

Typically, social programs are thought to have a very low return on investment, which is why SuROI methodology is so important. An SuROI framework allows you to measure the social and sustainable impact of a program beyond what you can see and easily measure. SuROI accounts for a much broader concept of value, such as reduced inequality, improved wellbeing, and increased community pride. Using financial proxies, you can show the value that program stakeholders experience and communicate it financially.


Applying SuROI to LandCare

There has been a multitude of benefits associated with long-term vacant land maintenance. These benefits range from a decrease in crime amongst communities to an increase in mental health amongst community members (Sadler, 2017). Previous studies conducted have found that an improvement in physical health can be valued at $31,302 (financial proxy sourced from Turning Point, 2014). This financial proxy is one of the higher values we have found and shows how much people value being able to improve their health. Long-term vacant land maintenance has been shown to increase physical health as it allows for community members to feel more comfortable getting outside and walking. Furthermore, it increases the number of children playing outside, which is a large physical benefit for them as well.

A vacant lot transformed into a safe and serene space where residents can relax and enjoy the community surroundings.
Community members being active on vacant lots.

In our research so far, we have learned that the LandCare program has also enabled small businesses and contractors to increase their hiring capacity. This has not only benefitted the contractors themselves — as they are able to expand their managerial skills — but has also benefited the new hires that the LandCare contractors are employing. Studies show that there is a $20,092.19 value connected to an increase in job satisfaction through working in a more commercial environment (University of Bristol, 2010). This proxy is associated with the value that people feel from the security of having a consistent wage over time. The employees that are being hired as a result of the LandCare program are community members that are able to experience the benefits of employment and having a cleaner and safer city to live in.

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