Sustainable Resilience

 This is not a new concept, but often overlooked in property development strategies, and in the organizational models that drive those development strategies.  As architects, we are experiencing fundamental shifts in practice – from climate change, major technology shifts, energy usage and costs, and the tools with which we practice. It is imperative that we develop deeper understanding of sustainable design principles, and as many jurisdictions and business leaders are instituting environmental, energy, and health related initiatives, we must raise the bar every day on our work. 

When I took on the study of the USGBC’s LEED accreditation program a few years ago, I didn’t expect this US developed system to be directly relevant to the projects I was working on around the world – in fact, at the time all of my work was out of the country. I was just interested in learning more about our approach to sustainable design strategies.  I was so amazed when the first comment from the chairman of a development company in Dubai after a major development strategy presentation was “it must be LEED certified”. 

The basic system is simple – good fundamental design principals that carefully balance and consider the use of energy and environmental resources, along with the health of the people we design for. For anyone who hasn’t gone onto the USGBC website a basic exploration is well worth the time, and to develop an understanding of the basic systems of values is one of the best ways to begin.

At TEDGlobal in Oxford a few weeks ago, I met with a number of brilliant industry changing business leaders who are developing new models – not just the buildings that represent their values, but a complete shift in re-connecting values to business and economic models.  Great innovations are in development and the opportunities to reflect those innovations into the built environment have never been more exciting. Here is an excerpt from the minister of the environment of Sweden on this concept, sustainable resilience – the concept behind great new innovations underway.



Resilience, for social-ecological systems, is related to

(a) the magnitude of shock that the system can absorb and remain

within a given state, (b) the degree to which the system is capable

of self-organization, and (c) the degree to which the system can

build capacity for learning and adaptation. Management can

destroy or build resilience, depending on how the social-ecological

system organizes itself in response to management actions.

More resilient social-ecological systems are able to absorb

larger shocks without changing in fundamental ways. When

massive transformation is inevitable, resilient systems contain the

components needed for renewal and reorganization. In other

words, they can cope, adapt, or reorganize without sacrificing the

provision of ecosystem services. Resilience is often associated with

 diversity – of species, of human opportunity, and of economicManagement that builds resilience can sustain 

options – that maintains and encourages both adaptation and



social-ecological systems in the face of surprise, unpredictability,

and complexity. Resilience-building management is flexible and

open to learning. It attends to slowly-changing, fundamental

variables that create memory, legacy, diversity, and the capacity to

innovate in both social and ecological components of the system. It

also conserves and nurtures the diverse elements that are necessary

to reorganize and adapt to novel, unexpected, and transformative

circumstances. Thus, it increases the range of surprises with which

a socio-economic system can cope.

A powerful concept to consider in both the design and business strategies we now have the opportunity to develop.