Why Value Resiliency?

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NYU’s cogeneration plant kept the lights on during Superstorm Sandy.

From wildfires and hurricanes to heat waves and tsunamis, every day there are people displaced from their homes by climate-related calamities. It’s hard to even glance at the news without seeing pictures of people for whom resiliency has failed.

Commercial owners face a different challenge. New York City is home to many of the world’s most impactful companies and institutions. These organizations are responsible for critical local, national or international operations that need to be accomplished regardless of what crisis comes from the shore or the sky. Whether it’s short-term weather events, like flooding from heavy rainfall, or heat waves from long-term climate change, the show must go on—whether we call it “resiliency” or just business continuity and risk management.

As we know, there is strong overlap between sustainable building construction and operations and resiliency. For instance, better building envelopes leave buildings able to maintain internal temperatures during power outages. They also reduce expensive insurance claims related to frozen and broken water lines during a polar vortex. Dramatic load reductions can double generator run times on the same size fuel tank. And distributed energy resources can keep the lights on when the city is dark  – as New York University discovered dramatically after Superstorm Sandy.

Since business continuity is practically a non-negotiable need for New York City, and given the increasing climate challenges we face, what if resiliency came first in business planning rather than as a “co-benefit” of energy savings? The resiliency measures described above may be necessary risk management. But they all save energy and carbon and help organizations reach their climate goals. Savings from the upgrades help offset their costs.

How would the dialog change if facility operators approached resiliency as follows: “We’d like to do a dramatic upgrade of our building systems so that we can maintain server uptime (or back office function, or hold classes, or keep residents in their units) during climate events. We really don’t have a choice because we lose millions during every event. The good news is that these upgrades will increase occupant comfort as well. And the best part is that they all save energy – so over time, they will pay for themselves.”

In theory, we should all be able to make a similar summation of the costs and benefits of a resiliency-focused proposal and look at the lifecycle costs. But in real life, there is limited time and energy for building upgrades. Urban Green’s upcoming conference, Weathering the Storm: The Intersection of Finance and Resilience, will discuss how we might assign value to resiliency in order to motivate both owners and lenders to take action now. In the end, energy and carbon savings might be the business case that bolsters the argument for resiliency.

About the author

Cecil Scheib
Scheib is NYU's Assistant Vice President of Sustainability and Chief Sustainability Officer. He formerly served as Chief Program Officer at Urban Green Council, where he lead our research, public programs and policy teams, and as the Managing Director of the Building Resiliency Task Force for the City of New York. As Director of Energy and Sustainability at NYU from 2007 to 2012, Cecil was intimately involved in guiding the campus toward environmental excellence.