Green buildings can play a significant role in community resiliency against future climate change and natural disasters, according to a new report from the USGBC and the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. The report, “Green Building and Climate Resilience: Understanding Impacts and Preparing for Changing Conditions,” was released at a national leadership speaker series hosted by USGBC and ICLEI—Local Governments for Sustainability USA on Feb. 29.

The report says that buildings should be designed for unknown future climate conditions, not just for historical climate patterns. "Every building is designed for a specific range of conditions, such as peak temperature, storm surge, and average precipitation," said Chris Pyke, vice president of research at USBGC at the even, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. "Climate change has the potential to undermine some of these assumptions and potentially increase risks to people and property. Fortunately, there are practical steps we can take to understand and prepare for the consequences of changing environmental conditions and reduce potential impacts."

Pyke spoke about the report's focus on "climate resilience,” and asked, “How can we ensure that our green buildings are performing under today’s conditions and future conditions?” Building a structure to historic climatic conditions of a site does not necessarily prepare it for future conditions, so buildings should think about the consequences of using historic assumptions for a buidling that will see unknown future conditions, he said.

With this in mind, the researchers first collected predicted climate changes by region and, if possible, future predicted characteristics in terms of temperatures, precipitation, coastlines, air quality, pests, and fires. Then they identified opportunities for resilience through building design, construction, and operation. Eighty-one specific strategies are presented in six categories: envelope; siting and landscape; heating, cooling, and lighting; water and waste; equipment; and process and operation.

“Some of the strategies proposed are ‘no regrets’ strategies in that they will help even if the climate doesn’t change,” said Larissa Larsen, associate professor in the urban and regional planning program at the University of Michigan. Other strategies are identified as “resilient” strategies that would allow a system or structure to absorb and adapt to events such as increased precipitation or flooding. Each strategy, whether “no regrets” or “resilient,” is presented with an objective, short description, a ranking of priority from high to low in each geographic region of the United States, primary and secondary impacts, details on how the strategy responds to climate change, the expected lifespan of the strategy, information on who controls the operation of the strategy, and associated LEED credits.

For example, the following strategies are included in the Envelope category:

No Regrets

  • Interior shading devices

  • Exterior shading devices

  • High-performance glazing

  • Beyond code insulation: wall

  • Beyond code insulation: roof

  • High-albedo roofing

  • Green roofs

Resilient

  • Enhanced roof access

  • Ice-dam resistant construction

  • Class A roofing system

  • Design for increased wind

  • Steeper low-slope roofing

  • Oversized roof drainage

  • Pitched roof

  • Prevent flame/ember entry

  • No eaves/no gutters

  • Pressure-neutral rain screens

  • Flood-resistive materials

  • Noncombustible siding

  • Tempered glazing

  • Plan for pest expansion

  • Hardened foundations

  • Miami-Dade County opening protection

  • Noncombustible decking

The report seeks to identify synergies between green building and flexibility to accommodate climate change and natural disasters. “Until now, green building practice has focused primarily on lessening the built environment’s contribution to climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” the report stated. “The next step is to understand the impact of climate change on the built environment and to incorporate appropriate adaptation strategies into green building practice so that the environments we design, build, and manage today will be suitable for a range of uncertain futures.”

A full copy of the report, with detailed strategies, can be downloaded here .