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Resiliency: The price of inaction

Who bears responsibility for paying for resiliency measures?

Original publication by Urban Green Council • November 20, 2017

In November 2017, we hosted an event that looked at local innovations in resiliency at the city, campus and individual building levels. Toward the end of the presentation, we noticed that the conversation kept circling back to finance: panelists questioned how resilience strategies would be paid for, just as federal funding was timing out. Jennifer Bolstad (Local Office Landscape Architecture), one of the speakers, made an offhand remark to the effect of, “Capitalism is the world’s greatest method for distribution of goods and services,” and wondered, “How does that translate to financial resilience? What protects the financial infrastructure that supports our physical infrastructure?”

That got us thinking. It’s true that money is the undercurrent of all transactions in real estate and construction. But without effective resilience strategies in place, the vast sums already invested in our built environment—as well as capital in various stages of planning for future investments—become threatened as the risks of climate change grow.

In the face of these risks, the architecture, engineering and construction industries have created many effective solutions, such as storm barriers, raised buildings and stronger facades to protect our physical infrastructure. However, if we are going to achieve true resilience, paying for it must somehow become an integrated cost, not an externality.

Our half-day conference on October 18, Weathering the Storm: The Intersection of Finance and Resilience, examined how we value and put a price on resilience. Unlike sustainability, the price of which is, unfortunately, shackled to returns on investments based on cheap sources of fuel, the price of resilience is much more existential. The building survives the flood, or it doesn’t. The business is up and running during and after the blackout, or it isn’t.

Several other environmental groups are also thinking about these issues: finance, resilience and equity were key issues at the 2017 American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) Summer Study program. The USGBC launched its resource-heavy Center for Resilience in July 2017. AIA New York’s Committee on the Environment had an event that examines urban resilience in the context of racial equity. And our own conference examined who bore the responsibility for paying for risk mitigation—and which new financial mechanisms were on the horizon to close the gap.

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