Is Resilience the New Green?

Longevity and safety are coming into focus in the construction industry.

Nearly 10 years ago, when I was just starting my career writing and reporting about the construction industry, green building was the emerging trend. The industry was taking a closer look at recycling, reducing waste and building for energy efficiency. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program was in its infancy. And gas was still well under $2 per gallon.

In the last decade, I’ve seen “green building” and “sustainable construction” become almost mainstream. Owners want buildings that use less electricity and water and draw lower heating/cooling costs. Contractors want to reduce waste, use less fuel (remember $5 per gallon gas?) and build more efficiently. Yes, these practices can be considered environmentally friendly, but ultimately, they also save money.

Emerging trend

With the second decade of my career in construction approaching, I see another trend emerging — resilience. In the construction industry, that means building structures to function longer than conventional life cycles and withstand natural disasters (or at a minimum function through a disaster and protect inhabitants). Resilience in construction is environmentally friendly, results in long-term costs savings, and, more importantly, can save lives.

Resilience through concrete is nothing new. The concrete industry has been promoting it for decades. But other factors are playing into the rise of resilience in construction and it feels like the country is ready for it. The National Weather Service reported nearly $32.8 billion in property damage from severe weather in the United States in 2012. That includes coastal flooding, tornadoes, winter storms, extreme heat, and more. These numbers are up dramatically from previous years — 2011 saw about $20 billion in damage while 2010 totaled out with $7 billion. Deadly weather events, like the two EF5 tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma in May, also contribute to the nation’s focus on safety and resilience. And increased pressure to reduce government spending will hopefully bring about wiser choices in government spending.

Concrete will contribute to the resilience movement. In fact, it already has. The Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative hosted a series of “Adopting Disaster Resilient Construction at the Local Level” workshops and conference presentations over the last year. States and municipalities are passing laws to ensure more resilient buildings. Bridge designs are looking at 100-year lifespans. There are a lot of indications that show resilience coming into its own.

How is your community talking about resilience and construction? How do you think your company will contribute to this movement? Email me your thoughts on resilience, the future of construction and concrete’s place in it. I will share your thoughts will readers in print and online.