While pockets of disagreement still linger in some quarters, climate change—and the science explaining it—is very real. And while fluctuations in seasonal weather are normal, the general trend toward a hotter planet is clear, evidenced by melting ice caps, dwindling glaciers, rising sea levels, and increasing incidences of extreme weather worldwide. Environmental scientists warn we are reaching a critical ‘point-of-no-return’ past which the everyday social and economic qualities of life we’ve become accustomed to in the developed world will no longer be possible.
While interest groups argue about how to respond to this existential threat, others are finding ways to acclimatize their communities to the changes that have already arrived, and to ready themselves for what’s to come. Real estate professionals, boards, and co-op and condo residents are all making changes in everything from how their buildings are insulated to how they generate or consume electrical power.
Urban vs. Suburban
Gautam Tarafdar is the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) Mid-Atlantic and New England regional director, and is at the forefront of planning for climate change. “The challenges of climate change for residential communities differ greatly based on location and whether it’s an urban or suburban community,” he says, “but at its core the conversation is about resilience planning. How do you create a space that is better able to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a catastrophic event, such as flooding, a hurricane, drought, wildfires, etc.? Green building strategies serve as the cornerstone for enhancing a building’s resilience. It’s a concept that more owners, developers, and investors are becoming aware of, because it helps these properties address climate risks that have potentially costly repercussions—but it’s also a way to improve their assets.”
One indicator of the real estate industry’s environmental concern is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program—an internationally recognized green building certification system that provides third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across the energy and environmental metrics that matter most. These include energy and water conservation, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor air quality, stewardship of natural resources, and sensitivity to human impacts. Improving assets—and hence value—is really what good management and stewardship are all about. After all, what board member isn’t proud to say that improvements made under their watch helped to increase the value of the community and the individual units?
Tarafdar goes on to explain that resilience planning is key to helping buildings adapt to climate change. “In 2015, LEED introduced a series of resilient design credits in an effort to bring the issue to the forefront of project design,” he says. “In 2018, those credits were revised to improve effectiveness and reflect feedback.”