LEED for Resilient Buildings?

In the last few years, responding to climate change hazards has become part of the way we do business. At a state level, September 2016’s Executive Order 569: Establishing an Integrated Climate Change Strategy for the Commonwealth requires Executive Offices to assess climate vulnerabilities and identify adaptation options, and cities and towns in the Commonwealth to complete vulnerability assessments, identify adaptation strategies and begin implementation of these strategies.  

At a city level, Climate Ready Boston has taken large steps forward in identifying Boston’s climate hazards and vulnerabilities, and providing recommendations for further action. Coastal resilience solutions for two of the City’s eight vulnerable areas – East Boston and Charlestown – have recently been released; the same process is beginning in South Boston with resilience solutions due in April 2018. In addition, UMASS Boston is expected to release results from a much anticipated harbor barrier review and a study on resilience governance and financing by the end of 2018. 

At a building level, the number of voluntary resilience standards has also grown rapidly to assist developers, building owners, property managers, and tenants in preparing for the potential impacts of climate change. The intent of these standards is to shift the building sector toward more robust adaptation and preparedness practices in the same way programs such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard has driven the development of sustainable facilities. But whereas green building certifications have been incorporated into local ordinances and are sought after by developers as they increase property values, resilience standards are at a much earlier stage of development.

As facilitators of the Green Ribbon Commission’s Commercial Real Estate Working Group (CREWG), A Better City has just released a report, Voluntary Resilience Standards: An Assessment of Market Options for Boston’s Large Commercial Buildings that reviews eight voluntary resilience standards. Each standard approaches resilience in a different way in terms of hazards addressed, systems identified, and performance outcomes provided. Although no one standard provides the guidance or technical support necessary to address all hazards—which is what developers and owners would like— the existing resilience standards, some of which are directly compatible, can be used to facilitate planning. We have made preliminary recommendations in the report of standards that can be used for existing buildings, new construction and low-to mid-rise buildings.

These standards can also support the recently updated Boston Planning and Development Agency’s Climate Change Preparedness and Resiliency Checklist and any future city or state-level tools and incentives. In the absence of resilience considerations within existing codes and regulations, standards can offer an important bridge for policy makers and planners to create incentives for practices that move the market toward resilience.

At the recent U.S. Green Building Council’s 2017 Greenbuild Conference in Boston, CREWG hosted a breakfast with the City and visiting experts from across the country to spread awareness about the existence of resilience standards, discuss needs and future opportunities for resilience planning for the built environment, and help lay a foundation for advancement of resilience standards in Boston.


Authored by: Yve Torrie, Director of Sustainability Programs

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