Building resilience securing advances in built environment sustainability

Monday, January 14, 2019

Integrating the elements of transformation

The five most costly Atlantic hurricanes have occurred since 2005, according to the United States National Hurricane Center. They impacted a region from the Caribbean north to the east coast of Canada, across to Mexico and up through Texas, the Gulf Coast, and inland. Sea level rise is now impacting property values on the Mississippi Coast, and Charleston, South Carolina, is experiencing ever more frequent flooding. These items are but a sliver of the changing conditions being witnessed across the country and around the world.


Strategists, practitioners, urban officials, and others have responded with a focus on resilience—the capacity of a built environment to take a major hit from an extreme event and remain or return quickly to being operational. There is much at stake. First, lives are at risk. Beyond that, the costs of restoration, of lost production and productivity all mount quickly. There is also the future cost of lost confidence, as workers and investors seek opportunities in more secure places. Resilience is a strategy to contain risk, but also to secure prosperity.

Priorities do not always easily align, and resilience is no exception. It is not difficult to see resilience as an element of sustainability, a goal ever more widely recognized as essential to progress. But it is also possible to observe potential tensions between resilience and other important dimensions of sustainability, such as energy efficiency and even health and well-being. 

Integrating the elements of sustainability is vital to the successful transformation that will be required in the 21st Century. Local and national governments have an important role to play in that transformation and need to adopt policies that will drive action on climate and energy. But integration will also require an emphasis on creative design.

To the extent that much of the low hanging fruit of sustainability has already been picked, strategy has entered an Era of Complexity. Each thread in the sustainability fabric is intricate, with its unique demands and specifications. However, the overall goal—for industry, finance, policy, research, and advocacy—is to weave those disparate threads into the single tapestry of a comprehensive and sustainable built environment of a sort never before seen. Physics will be important, as will new technologies; digitalization linked to heating and cooling will be critical to building energy optimization and resilience. But art and collaboration are being demanded of professions more accustomed to production, delivery, and operation.