With All That’s Happening in 2020, Let’s Not Forget About Climate Change

2020 has been an incredibly challenging year in many different ways—sustaining personal relationships with those we cannot safely see in person, working remotely, and coping with radical changes to our communities and our world. Unfortunately, in the midst of these changes, we are constantly reminded of another critical concern—climate change. Fires in the West, hurricane Laura in the Gulf, extreme flooding in Afghanistan, Sudan and China, and a heat wave in the Arctic are attributed, at least in part, to climate change.

Great Challenge Means Great Opportunity

In 2020, 1% of the globe is so hot that it’s barely livable. By 2070, that number could rocket to 19%. While those numbers are scary, they also present us with tremendous opportunities to alter our path and change the future of our world. One of the most remarkable developments in the wake of COVID-19 was seeing firsthand the radical impact that dramatically lowering our carbon emissions can have. Global emissions for 2020 are predicted to drop by 4% – 7%, even accounting for the gradual reopening of activity and commerce for the remainder of the year. But, what will the global recovery look like? In the words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Let me be clear: There will be a difficult debate about the allocation of funds. But it is important that recovery programs always keep an eye on the climate, we must not sideline climate but invest in climate technologies.”

Remember the Mission in Combating Climate Change

Green building has come a long way over the last two decades and, from an energy perspective, continues in its progress toward zero energy and zero carbon in the years to come. Meanwhile, health and wellness has been the emerging building metric of the last five years. The global pandemic has elevated the attention paid to these standards; however, focusing on these standards distracts, somewhat, the attention needed to address climate change. Ironically, it can be argued that it is the changing climate, as much as anything, that is exacerbating our health with increasing temperatures, longer asthma seasons, and higher insect populations.  We cannot allow climate change to take a backseat in policy or in people’s minds.  Time is already too short.

We know that there are many things occurring at once right now and it’s difficult to prioritize all of them, but we are here to help you make your business wellness-focused, socially just and environmentally conscious.

We Can Change the Fate of Our World, Now

The world has been at a tipping point for a decade, at least.  The effects of climate change have gone from minor to dramatic. Some changes may soon be permanent if they aren’t already.  With renewable energy costs now cheaper than fossil fuels, a carbon free future is within our grasp. Our government, on both sides of the aisle, talk of the importance and need to invest in infrastructure. Investing in our energy infrastructure addresses climate change, energy affordability, public health and a myriad of other potential issues such as climate migration.

Progress is happening globally and, within the US, in red and blue states alike. Did you know that seventy percent of new electricity generation installed in the world is clean energy, in California solar energy plus storage is cheaper than natural gas, Texas has the most installed wind energy in the US and that DFW (Dallas Fort Worth) is the first carbon neutral airport in the country and the largest carbon neutral airport in the world?

Let’s not take our eyes off the ball. We must continue to focus on climate change solutions even while addressing health, equity and the economy. I’m confident that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, but we need to remember where we are going.

Resilience in Building and Infrastructure

Over the course of 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cataloged 14 separate events in the United States, including snowstorms, hurricanes, drought and wildfires. The total cost of those events was a whopping $91 billion. As severe weather becomes more common and the climate becomes less predictable, resilience is growing in popularity when considering construction. What is resilience, and why is it so vital to the success of your green building project?

Resilience in Green Building

The Resilient Design Institute provides the following definition:

Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in order to respond to natural and manmade disasters and disturbances—as well as long-term changes resulting from climate change—including sea level rise, increased frequency of heat waves, and regional drought.

One might also include health related risks, as some experts believe that Zoonotic diseases are related to an increase in deforestation and the subsequent increase in contact between humans and animals. Insect-born diseases are also thought to be an increasing risk as the climate changes. Sustainable infrastructure can have conserving and restorative outcomes.

While different, resiliency and sustainability have much in common. LEED encourages many resilient strategies such as choosing a site with care, using durable materials, planning for the collection and reuse of rainwater and grey water, prioritizing energy conservation and installing renewable energy systems, for example.

Rating systems such as Envision™, for infrastructure projects, and RELi™, for building projects, require assessments of potential hazards, and threats. In the language of resiliency, hazards refer to naturally occurring conditions such as severe weather while threats refer to human induced situations such as vandalism or acts of terrorism. A project’s vulnerability is the extent of disruption to normal operations for a building or system. Risk is a measure of the probability that a particular hazard or threat will exploit a project’s vulnerability.

Resilience planning involves considering the ability of a project to withstand these hazards and threats. The USGBC introduced resilient design credits in 2015 to help promote awareness of resilience in green building, including:

  • Assessment and Planning for Resilience: Identifying risks and vulnerabilities associated with climate change, like extreme heat, sea level rise or winter storms.
  • Designing for Enhanced Resilience: Collecting risk-related information and coming up with methods to address the risks when constructing and designing buildings.
  • Passive Survivability and Back-Up Power During Disruptions: Exploring ways that buildings can protect occupants during power outages and disruptions.

As has already been mentioned, entire rating systems have been created to assist

owners is assessing the resiliency of their projects.

The Bullitt Center in Seattle

What Can Resilience in Your Project Look Like?

 The USGBC profiled numerous successful profiles of resilience in green building here.  The profiles highlight the creative ways that LEED-certified buildings can adapt to meet the changing climate and weather conditions throughout the world. For example, one set of offices were renovated in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2013 with resilience in mind. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, the office was able to return to a fully functional workspace within a few days thanks to solar lighting, back-up power generators, satellite internet, rainwater cisterns and more. When things are designed thoughtfully, it can help you to get back to work and life as usual as quickly as possible.

For sustainable infrastructure, the US Climate Resilience Toolkit is an excellent resource allowing you to search for case studies of resilient projects by region and type. Searching for “transportation projects”, one can see how the Maryland State Highway Administration is identifying which of its highways and bridges are vulnerable to climate related events.  A search for “extreme events” yields case studies such as how the Manchester-by-the-Sea waste water treatment plant is addressing operational resiliency in the face of potential flooding or how middle school students in St. Marys, Georgia, participated in a public outreach effort to increase their community’s flood resilience and earn the city a 25% reduction in their flood insurance premiums.

How Are Sustainability and Resilience Different?

While you might think the words, sustainability and resilience, are interchangeable, there are key differences between the two. For example, sustainability focuses on energy and water reduction, while resilience explores the need for multiple energy and water sources. Sustainability thinks about things like indoor environmental quality and locally sourced materials, while resilience places an emphasis on passive systems and designing in harmony with the project’s site and location. However, they have a lot in common, including energy independence, water independence, renewable resources, integrative design process, and community engagement and support. When considering resiliency for your next project, check out these resiliency rating systems.

Doo Consulting provides sustainability consulting services to Owners and project teams. They are accredited Envision Sustainability Professionals (ENV SP).