2020 year in review: RELi

February 18, 2021

As an organization, we define resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from and more successfully adapt to adverse events.” And LEED and the RELi Rating System are the chief tools through which we seek to address resiliency. By making buildings more sustainable, durable and adaptable through the application of LEED and RELi, we can reduce communities’ vulnerability to short-term shocks, such as fires and floods, and ensure that they are better equipped for long-term stressors, such as economic dislocation and climate change.

In a 2019 report from CDP, a group of the world’s largest companies valued climate risks to their businesses at almost $1 trillion – with many likely to occur within the next five years. In 2020 alone in the U.S., there were 16 disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each. There is, of course, more at stake than financial well-being. Over the last two years, reportedly more than 16 million people globally, including an estimated 1.2 million Americans, were displaced because of climate events. This is unfortunately a number that is expected to continue to grow impacting quality of life and social cohesion. Figures like this further reinforce the need for immediate solutions that can help mitigate the social and economic costs that are predicted in the near term. Green building programs like LEED and RELi build much needed capacity and provide business leaders and government officials with strategies to mitigate risk and establish a framework for implementing solutions and communicating progress.

Resilient design for a changing world

RELi can be used by companies, developers, city planners, architects and more to assess and plan for the acute hazards that buildings and communities can face during unplanned events, prepare to mitigate against these hazards and design and construct buildings to maintain critical life-saving services in the event of extended loss of power, heating fuel or water. The rating system is designed to protect occupants, offer shelter to those in the nearby community, allow business continuity and reduce the cost of disaster-related repair and rebuilding. Resiliency under RELi takes a holistic approach that includes promoting social equity, human health and wellbeing and community vitality.

RELi includes a robust integrative process, acute hazard preparation and adaptation, along with chronic risk mitigation at the building and neighborhood scale. USGBC formally adopted RELi in 2017 and in 2018 convened the RELi Steering Committee (RSC) which formalized the next version of the rating system, RELi 2.0. Under the leadership of Chair, Doug Pierce and Vice Chair, Alex Wilson the RSC continues to oversee the maintenance and development of the RELi standard. We are thankful for the support of and guidance from all current and former RSC members including: Janice Barnes, Stephen Bushnell, Marc Coudert, Jane Sibley Frantz, Katherine Hammack, Ann Kosmal, Mary Ann Lazarus, Chuck Miccolis, Rachel Minnery, Jim Newman, Nick Rajkovich, and John Williams.

RELi is also fully integrated with LEED and can act as a compliment to other GBCI certifications such as PEER and SITES which are intended to promote resilience beyond the building.

Building capacity through education and events

Rating systems like RELi require a trained, committed network of experts and advocates to most successfully transform markets. The urgency of climate change has led to a critical focus on education and building capacity to successfully embed resilience into our buildings and communities. For this reason, a priority focus of our efforts in 2020 was to educate and inform our customers on the benefits of applicability of the RELi program, including:

  • Hosting the Inaugural RELi Town Hall with a keynote address from our President and CEO, Mahesh Ramanujam. The event convened the green building community around the critical need for embedding resilience strategies into building and community design and focused on how LEED and RELi are helping to achieve a healthy, equitable and sustainable future for all.
  • Launching an introductory course, Measuring Resilience with RELi, which details how RELi measures resilience in buildings, cities and communities and expands upon LEED to embrace resilience strategies that are climate adaptive. An advanced RELi course is currently under development and planned for launch in 2021.
  • Featuring RELi at the Greenbuild Resilience Summit in a session titled “RELi: From Hazard Mitigation to Community Vitality.” Led by Karin Holland, Jim Newman, and Katherine Hammack the session focused on two critical aspects that comprise half of the RELi program credits - climate hazard mitigation and the connection between climate resilience and community vitality.

Enhancing resilience through climate risk analysis

We want and need buildings to be prepared for a range of uncertain futures. One of the ways we can help is to foster a better understanding of the probable impacts of climate change. Data and technology can provide clarity on the hazards to which assets are most likely to be exposed. We are committed to applying our growing data and technology platforms to help stakeholders gain insights and inform action. As a first step, we are working with partners including Coastal Risk Consulting and its RiskFootprint™ tool to provide high-quality climate risk analyses for buildings, communities and cities. The online environmental and climate risk assessment service provides both portfolio risk screening and property-level risk assessments against more than a dozen current and future environmental risk factors, such as wildfire, flooding, sea level rise, storm surge, drought, earthquakes and more. Please read this article to learn more about how to enhance the resilience of LEED and RELi projects through climate risk analysis.

"Coastal Risk is proud to partner with USGBC to accelerate resilience for residential and commercial properties and public facilities. Our RiskFootprint technology provides users with a scientific and comprehensive visualization of current and future physical climate risks, both on a portfolio and individual property level. RiskFootprint complements USGBC's mission to make buildings greener and more sustainable." - Albert Slap, President, Coastal Risk Consulting

Our commitment to a resilient future

In December, we outlined our commitment to expanding our suite of programs and resources focused on improving building and community resilience in the face of climate risks. While we have made progress, we know there remains a lot of work to be done and your voice is essential to this. For this reason, we launched a Resilience Call for Ideas to gather new and diverse perspectives on what is most critical to the green building community in the development of resilient landscapes, buildings, communities and cities moving forward.

The call for ideas provides a platform for you, our vast community of stakeholders, to share your thoughts and insights about how our programs can most effectively achieve the goals of resilient buildings, cities and communities. The call for ideas remains open, so please contribute your input on how we can collectively further enhance resilience across the industry.

Our team remains committed to strengthening RELi and further embedding resilience in every component of the built environment, and we look forward to continuing this important work together.