The significance of planning and management of the subsurface to achieve sustainable cities
Conference poster, 2020

Introduction: The subsurface is the foundation upon which all cities rest. But the subsurface is not only a construction basis which provide physical space for infrastructure and the possibility to create a better surface living environment: the subsurface is a multifunctional natural resource. Apart from physical space, it provides water, energy, materials, habitats for ecosystems, support for surface life, and a repository for cultural heritage and geological archives. Currently, the subsurface is often utilised according to the “first-come-first-served” principle, which hinders possibilities to take strategic decisions on prioritisation and optimisation of competing subsurface uses, as well as fair inter- and intragenerational distribution of limited natural resources. A great disadvantage is the invisibility of the subsurface and consequently a lack of understanding of it as a multifunctional resource: the recently launched concept of geosystem services could help mitigate its underrating.

Methods: In order to better acknowledge and lift forward the significance of the subsurface in achieving a sustainable future, the 17 SDGs are scrutinized in relation to the resources of subsurface, and specifically how better planning and management of the subsurface can contribute in achieving the goals.

Results: Subsurface planning and management is relevant to at least seven (3, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13) out of seventeen SDGs. Although the subsurface is not explicitly mentioned in the SDGs (except for aquifers), the subsurface can significantly contribute in achieving several of these goals.

Conclusions: Sound planning and management of the subsurface can support the achievement of the mapped SDGs in various ways. The subsurface must be recognised as a precious and multifunctional resource which require careful planning and sensitive management in accordance with its potential and its value to society.

Grant support: Swedish Research Council Formas (942-2016-50), Swedish Rock Engineering Research Foundation (BeFo 385), Swedish Institute Visby Programme (23887/2017).

sustainable development goals


underground space

underground planning


subsurface planning

geosystem services



Jenny Norrman

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, GeoEngineering

Yevheniya Volchko

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, GeoEngineering

Lars O Ericsson

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, GeoEngineering

Kristina L. Nilsson

Luleå University of Technology

Jennie Sjöholm

Luleå University of Technology

Anders Markstedt

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, GeoEngineering

Nikolai Bobylev

Saint Petersburg State University - Spsu

Göteborg, on line, Sweden,

SUB Sustainable use of underground space

Formas (942-2016-50), 2016-07-01 -- 2021-06-30.

BeFo - Rock engineering research foundation, 2016-07-01 -- 2021-08-31.

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance

Building Futures (2010-2018)

Subject Categories

Geotechnical Engineering

Other Environmental Engineering

Environmental Analysis and Construction Information Technology

Other Civil Engineering

Geosciences, Multidisciplinary

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