Disaster Resilience Part of Sustainability, Too - Miller-McCune
As the world deals with quakes, storms, waves and eruptions, builders realize that surviving and thriving after these threats are key components of sustainability.
As eco-savvy as the earthquake-prone Left Coast might be, it’s probably safe to bet that going green won’t be the first thing to come to mind when the Big One hits Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco.
Nevertheless, green-building advocates and disaster planners are finding common ground as they try to convince cost-conscious building owners that keeping a building operational after a punishing quake or other disaster makes economic and environmental sense. Developers and architects already earn green-building kudos for outfitting structures with solar panels and energy-scrimping lighting. Now some builders wonder whether keeping a building standing should earn them similar credit.
“If we’re taking a building and putting it on top of an earthquake fault, and if we haven’t considered and evaluated the lifecycle performance from those earthquake risks, I don’t think we can really call a building sustainable,” says Erik Kneer, an associate engineer who works in the Oakland offices of Degenkolb.
Kneer and colleagues at his San Francisco-based firm, as well as other seismic engineers, are starting to promote the concept of resilience — the ability for a community or structure to survive and quickly recover from a disaster — as essential for green building. Any building, after all, represents tremendous amounts of “embodied energy” from extracting raw materials, transporting them, and ultimately discarding them when a building is no longer usable. What happens if it’s destroyed long before its predicted lifespan? All that energy will again need to be expended.
“For green buildings or something that you’re calling sustainable, it doesn’t make sense to call it sustainable if you haven’t evaluated the long-term risks associated with the natural hazards for that building,” Kneer says.
The latest sustainable construction techniques are useless, he adds, if those high-performance systems are placed in a structure that can’t withstand conditions like extreme seismic shaking or hurricane force winds.
“To me, that just doesn’t make any sense,” he says. “It’s like taking a Ferrari engine and putting it in a Yugo.”