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Future-proofing buildings – Part 2: Why LEED is not enough

This author no longer works for DNV GL.

In Part 1 of Future-proofing buildings, we described the three primary drivers that should motivate building owners to address resiliency at the facility level: cost to insure, cost to operate and business continuity. As we’ve been working on developing our resiliency services, these questions have been raised:

  • If you want to design and operate a resilient building, how far does LEED certification get you toward that goal?
  • Is it enough to get a high-level certification (Gold or Platinum)?
  • If not, what strategies do building owners have to look to increase resiliency?

As a starting point, building owners can use the LEED Climate Resilience Screening Tool, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). This is a Microsoft Excel-based tool designed to help users identify which LEED credits are “sensitive” to changing climate conditions and prioritize credits that offer opportunities to increase resilience. For example, the ability to manage stormwater is sensitive to changing climate conditions, such as increased frequency of flooding. Similarly, the capacity for managing stormwater may be an adaptation strategy that building owners want to consider if their facility is exposed to flood risk.

But the strategies outlined in the LEED Climate Resilience Screening Tool only get you so far down the path to resiliency. Doing a quick analysis with this tool, less than 20 percent of LEED credits under the LEED for New Construction Rating System are “climate sensitive” and less than half represent opportunities for adaptation.

So what should building owners consider beyond what the LEED Rating System offers? Here are five strategies that we think are most critical.

  1. Increase passive survivability: Use passive strategies to ensure your building can operate in the event of power failure, such as operable windows for cooling and ventilation, daylighting and rainwater harvesting.
  1. Consider site opportunities and vulnerabilities: Site opportunities include stormwater management, rainwater harvesting, and appropriate landscaping for fire hazards. Vulnerabilities include proximity to flood and fire zones, non-drought resistant vegetation or lack of vegetation, and impervious paving.
  1. Back-up critical systems: Critical systems should be backed up with on-site power generation (preferably renewable) and battery backup systems. Cogeneration and solar power systems should be designed to run during utility blackouts. Locating backup generation and storage systems above flood level ensures that they can operate in the event of a flood.
  1. Develop an emergency preparedness plan: Building owners/operators should plan and organize with occupants to reduce potential harm. Encourage occupants to stock the necessary items and practice how to respond during a disaster. Include a communications plan.
  1. Know your neighbors: No building is an island, and neither are communities. Resiliency does not happen in siloes. Communities that recover quickly from climate events are those that are close-knit. Areas of refuge (safe, fortified gathering places) are important to geographic areas where tornados or hurricanes are more likely.
Figure 1: The LEED Climate Resilience Screening Tool is a Microsoft Excel-based tool designed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Figure 1: The LEED Climate Resilience Screening Tool is a Microsoft Excel-based tool designed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

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