Designing a More Resilient Future

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Our world is changing and with it, our perception of resilience and sustainability is also shifting. Historically, people have considered resilient projects to be those that are resilient when faced with climate-related threats and hazards, like sea-level rise or extreme weather events, while sustainable projects are those that protect and enhance the natural environment. As we move toward designing a more resilient future, the concepts of resilience and sustainability are evolving as we are better understanding their interactions, intersections and overlaps.

I have the honor of being one of 17 contributors, all leading women in the design services and construction industries, to a new book, Climate Change and the Built Environment, released by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC). The book presents best practices for integrating climate resilience into the built environment and explores five case studies of climate-resilient projects.

In the chapter entitled “Looking Ahead: Designing a Resilient Future,” my co-author, Luce Bassetti, and I explore how to make sustainable and resilient solutions a reality. As the science of resilience progresses, we noted three key themes emerging:

Expanding the Definition of Resilience: As an industry, we are designing systems that are resilient to a broader range of threats and hazards. This includes cyber threats, terrorism, health epidemics, infrastructure failure or collapse and population shifts.

Interconnectedness and interdependence of threats and hazards: We are seeing an increased understanding of the interconnectedness of existing and future systems. This highlights the relationship between climate impacts and additional hazards and threats.

Addressing sustainability and resilience across the full lifecycle of systems: We must better leverage resilience and sustainability best practices to define and manage a wider array of impacts and develop more holistic and cost-effective solutions that address multiple challenges for a broader range of stakeholders.

To address these evolving trends, we offer a program management approach to sustainability and resilience. To ensure the resilience and sustainability vision of an organization, program or project are realized, policies, procedures, tools, capacity building (i.e., hiring new staff and training existing staff), leadership and reporting requirements must be installed to support the strategy. This performance management framework will facilitate a whole-system approach, challenging us to move beyond our discipline-centered silos of the past and foster broader-reaching, multi-faceted, multi-benefit solutions.

It is important to remember that change will not happen overnight. Prioritization of projects and needs is critical. As an industry, we need to build capacity to handle the exponential growth being seen in resilience and sustainability, and while the available funding is significant, additional investment will be needed in the future to address all the work that needs to be done.

As we lay out a path forward, we are working to increase the probability of holistically resilient, sustainable and climate-safe infrastructure becoming reality.

Read more about Climate Change and the Built Environment on ACEC’s Last Word blog here:

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