Editorial: Building for the future
June 14, 2022 By Patrick Flannery
A new word is defining our approach to environmentally conscious construction.
It’s funny how certain words float up to prominence in our discourse around an issue, linger for a while on the tips of everyone’s tongues, then fade away to be replaced by other words. “Pollution” is probably the first word I remember from the environmentally conscious green movement, back when concern for the environment was primarily attached to images of industrial waste pouring out of pipes into open ditches and the Detroit River on fire. “Acid rain” had it’s day, as did “smog” and later the “ozone layer.”
Then came the Big Kahuna – “global warming” – soon tweaked to “climate change.” With it, the terms for how companies should position themselves took on more esoteric and sophisticated meanings. “Recycling” was everything for a long time, until it started to become evident that we were never going to be able to reuse enough of what we consume to meet our climate objectives. That was broadened into a need to be “green” or “environmentally friendly,” taking in energy conservation as well as avoiding waste and not obtaining materials from non-green sources. At some point, the environmental movement realized that a complete cessation of making things was probably not in the cards, so a new word came along that incorporated some allowance for the need for industry to exist: “sustainability.” Go ahead and manufacture and consume and build if you must, but at least try to do it in a way that ensures you will be able to continue to do so tomorrow. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to include “embodied carbon” in your calculations.
At the recent Spring Training Camp conference hosted by Building Knowledge and McLeod Associates, I saw a new word poking its head up: “resilient.” The conference was a really excellent education in the most recent building science. There were some very knowledgeable and highly placed industry experts there, including contractors with long track records in sustainable building, engineers from Natural Resources Canada, energy advisors from the Canadian Association of Consulting Energy Advisors and Gord Cooke, Andy Oding and Tex McLeod themselves. All seemed quite interested in this “resilient” term and a couple of the presentations were built around it.
Resiliency obviously means building better: to a higher quality standard and for more longevity. That makes sense. There’s no better way to reduce the carbon impact of construction than to not have to renovate, repair or rebuild in the first place. But “resilient” is not exactly the same as “durable.” It also suggests the ability to roll with the punches; to adapt and be repaired or upgraded as time and changing conditions do their damage. The relevance of this today is obvious – it’s called climate change. We’re understanding that the conditions we build for today will not be the ones our buildings face tomorrow. That adds another level of complexity to the challenge. Finally, resiliency is also about resisting a higher level of punishment from the more frequent extreme weather we are already seeing. So the term carries with it the beginnings of a sad realization that some portion of the damage is already done and part of our jobs as builders will be to make structures capable of mitigating the permanent impact of climate change on our clients. •
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