The adage “the only thing you can be sure of in life is change” has never felt truer this April in the year 2020. As Americans are settling into a new – and hopefully short lived – reality of life in a pandemic, it’s a great opportunity to imagine a better world on the other side of the storm. Because one thing is certain – in specific ways we can’t ascertain presently – we will be entering a new era.
Let’s talk first though about the recent past: the last decade or two as “sustainability” entered the vernacular of commercial and American life. As scientists raised louder alarm bells regarding global climate change and the need to start ratcheting down fossil fuel use, the building sector especially responded by devising new ways to conserve. Renewable energy became more widespread as well.
The main motivation was to save our environment and with it, self-preservation. But with a concept as big as planetary climate change, it could be tough to convince the commercial sector that immediate action was needed. Indeed, the coming tsunami was very far away and seemingly slow in its approach.
So “sustainability” adapted, and the industry further defined it: comfort, affordability and health. Green building certifications started to emerge that directly addressed these concepts for an improved quality of life both at home and at work. Still the industry remains a boutique market as of today, even as the public sector at all levels led the way to adoption for better energy codes and HVAC system measures.
But there has been a growing term over the last few years that is resonating: resiliency. And now that we have landed at this point where our economy and lives face an unforeseeable future, this word resonates with a whole new meaning.
Resilience should be adopted as a system to prepare for threats, absorb impacts, recover and adapt following persistent disruption. “Resiliency” is “sustainability” past puberty. This is where we need as a nation (and world) to go next.
Moving ahead, we can see creating a built environment and landscape as resilient by:
- Constructing more durable buildings to withstand storms and extreme temperature swings.
- Conditioning said buildings to be proactive by installing smart HVAC and information systems for early alerts to failure.
- Ventilating to sustain health of its inhabitants which encourages a better quality of life and increased productivity.
- Designing and constructing our cities’ streets and storm systems to be more resilient for the heavy rain events that are happening with increased occurrence.
- Encouraging whole building systems that conserve our nation’s resources for a more resilient economy.
- Creating an energy delivery system that incorporates more renewables and less fossil fuels because this leads to a more resilient nation that is self-reliant.
“Resilient” is what Americans have seen themselves throughout our history during hardships. A more durable built environment can be a legacy that encapsulates America’s better nature of care and community with our fellow citizens for generations to come.
Mary English has been working in sustainable construction and building science for over thirteen years. She has worked with multiple designers and builders in the Kansas City region testing and consulting on best practices from building envelope to HVAC. She currently serves as the Committee Chair for the USGBC Central Plains Programs Committee.