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Guest Article: U.S. Green Building Council Shines the Spotlight on Resilience

December 10, 2019

USGBC’s Center for Resilience Showcases Practical Resources

Guest Article by Alysson Blackwelder, USGBC - At the U.S. Green Building Council, our mission is to transform buildings and communities into more sustainable, efficient, and healthy places to live, work, and play – in other words, a more resilient built environment for all. While we haven’t historically defined our work in this context, resilience has underscored everything that we’ve strived to accomplish to this day. It’s only recently that we’ve articulated the connection between sustainable building practices and resilient outcomes.

As the leading convener of stakeholders in green building, we help move the building and construction industries forward through LEED, as well as our robust educational offerings, nationwide network of local members and advocacy. We are pleased to support thousands of contractors through education, as well as celebrating leadership in construction through awards and recognition, and count hundreds of contractors as members.

In 2018, USGBC launched our Center for Resilience – a comprehensive resource highlighting our work the resilience realm. This site examines how our various rating systems support resilient project outcomes, how our advocacy work promotes our commitment to a more resilient future for the built environment, and how USGBC supports project teams to design for a changing world.

LEED Supports Strategies for Resilience

Most prominently, the application of our LEED rating system helps to drive resilience in buildings by encouraging them to be more durable, functional, and efficient. Through its encouragement of integrative design, rigorous requirements, and flexible credits, LEED helps to guide project teams towards climate adaptation strategies to enhance projects’ resilience. To put it simply, LEED inspires a higher level of building and community resilience.

Some LEED-certified projects have exhibited exceptional resilience, at times designed to specifically withstand constant environmental stressors or extreme weather events. As profiled in a USGBC policy brief, a LEED office space in Puerto Rico served as a community shelter-in-place immediately following Hurricane Maria in 2017. Project features like a back-up power generator and satellite internet reduced occupants’ reliance on ground infrastructure, and strategies such as solar tube lighting enabled employees and other members of the community to remain safe indoors using ample natural light.

Another notable LEED project is the GAF headquarters building – the first project in the world to earn a LEED pilot credit for resilient design. Achieving this credit required the project team to conduct a pre-design hazard assessment, including identification of and specific assessment requirements for potential natural hazards. In meeting this standard, the project team helped ensure that the building, located in Parsippany, New Jersey, would be resilient in the event of hurricane-strength winds. Among the strategies incorporated is a roof that exceeds local code requirements, actually meeting FEMA Wind Zone II velocities.

GAF Resilience Consultant Valerie Walsh explained her project team’s motivation behind pursuing the resilience pilot credit, saying that GAF had a “programmatic priority of continuous operations and emergency preparedness that aligned perfectly” with the credit. In the project’s planning phase, GAF had made it clear the amount of down-time the company would tolerate in the new building: “Not one minute.”

The LEED Resilient Design pilot credits are part of USGBC’s ongoing effort to bring resilience to the forefront of project design. Recent revisions to these credits improve their effectiveness, reflect feedback from LEED project teams, and harmonize the credits with RELi, USGBC’s emerging resilience rating system.

RELi Takes a Holistic Approach to Resilient Design

RELi is USGBC’s rating system that is specifically designed to enhance the resilience of buildings and communities. Just as LEED offers flexible, credit-based solutions for greater sustainability and resilience, RELi incorporates a robust integrative process that addresses a variety of resilience challenges for different types of projects.

Through RELi, USGBC is working to address the urgent need to transform the way we view the built environment to account for a changing world. “As we face the very real challenges posed by climate change, sea level rise, river line flooding, and wildfire, we’ve got to have both resilience and sustainability baked into the way we design and build,” says Susan Dorn, General Counsel at USGBC. “It’s not enough to be green; we’ve got to be both.”

Broadly, in order to effectively cultivate resilience, any project must adopt a multi-faceted approach. This is especially true for projects the follow the RELi blueprint. The system promotes building design practices that will enable survivability and normal operations when challenged by extreme events. RELi is designed to protect building occupants, offer shelter to those in the community, allow business continuity, and reduce the cost of disaster-related repair and reconstruction.

For example, under its Hazard Preparedness (HP) Requirement 2.0, RELi mandates that a project provides fundamental safety for facility occupants during common emergencies for a period of at least four days following a major event. This includes meeting OHSA and ANSI minimum requirements for workplace first air kits, as well as other items as recommended by the American Red Cross for first aid kits.

RELi’s Panoramic Approach (PA) Requirement 2.0 directs project teams to follow an integrative process starting at the pre-design phase, continuing throughout the design phase, integrated across disciplines, trades and building systems. These include energy, water, and transportation-related systems, as well as community commons space – namely open space, parks, trails, community rooms, and public facilities. In addition to this criteria, project teams must include broad community stakeholder participation in the process. To ensure a cooperative approach to resilience planning, RELi demands the consideration of community feedback, making sure that any project will benefit the surrounding area.

RELi Encourages Community Resilience

Thoughtful integration of a project into the surrounding community is a priority for RELi as well. For instance, RELi’s Community Cohesion, Social + Economic Vitality (CV) Credit 3.0 offers points for enhanced community connectivity. The intent of this credit is to facilitate social and economic interconnectivity and cohesion through the built environment through improvements in existing public space or the development of new public space.

By enhancing adjacent areas like parks, plazas, and recreational facilities, a project can make a community more livable, connected, and more resilient as a whole. To earn this credit, a project may also enhance or restore facilities including a hospital, emergency shelter, police or fire station, affordable housing, affordable retail space, among other options.

Resilience on the Community Level

USGBC’s definition of resilience goes beyond the physical durability or reliability of a project. For us, resilience also encompasses how a project can benefit the surrounding community and how it can leave a positive mark on the people who live, work, and enjoy it. This is reflective in the development of the RELi system and also demonstrated in LEED projects.

This concept of community vitality and social equity is brought to life in a LEED-certified multi-family residential project in downtown Los Angeles. The Silver Star Apartments project was designed to accommodate the unique needs of veterans with disabilities and those previously without stable housing. The project is the first Zero Net Energy multi-family affordable housing project in Los Angeles, and includes the first commercial on-site greywater system for indoor use in the city. By offsetting irrigation demand and allowing for indoor usage of recycled non-potable water, the building reduces the need for municipal water needs in a region often under great water constraints.

The project was designed and built on the basis that integrated supportive services, along with permanent affordable housing is the most effective way to reduce homelessness, promote wellness, support recovery, and build individual resilience among its residents.

This type of social resilience is a concept USGBC is working to amplify in our work. LEED offers three distinct pilot credits to projects that integrate social equity in their design – specifically in the project team itself, in the supply chain, and within the surrounding community. USGBC believes that green buildings should be within reach for everyone, regardless of circumstance or societal disadvantage. When projects acknowledge and take steps to correct or account for social inequity, the resilience of the overall community is strengthened.

For more on how USGBC supports more resilient buildings and communities, visit our Center for Resilience or send us a message at resilience@usgbc.org. For more information on RELi including pilot project opportunities, please contact us at reli@usgbc.org.

*AGC of America thanks our guest writer for contributing this article on resilience featured in AGC’s Environmental Observer newsletter.  AGC’s staff person on resilience and sustainability issues is Melinda Tomaino at tomainom@agc.org.*

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