A version of this article first appeared on the Sustainability Talk & News website, published 18 December, 2012.
At every level, Hurricane Sandy represents a wake-up call for the sleeping giant of community resilience that is the built-environment sector. It is time for Construction to engage both with the (inter)national debate on climate-change risk and global-warming impacts, plus local discussions about resource mobilisation, security provision and preparedness.
In order for Construction to be cast a lead rôle in climate-change adaptation, it must be able to see both the Big Picture and the Local View: The Big Picture provides the backdrop to the global stage on which nation states perform, populated by protagonists in politics and pressure groups; the Local View is characterised by community scenes, where dialogue is more about resilience and resource.
At the macro level, the business community is becoming increasingly concerned about climate risk and the urgent need to be proactive. Ahead of the UN COP18 talks in Doha, over 200 of the largest investment fund managers and institutions – with more than £13tn in assets and including the likes of Scottish Widows, Aviva and HSBC – issued an open letter to the UK government and other administrations, advocating an escalation in action on climate change. Take heed: These signatories petitioning are establishment and mainstream money men and women, not greens, or alternative-energy geeks.
With The City worried and vocal, the onus is on leading market sectors such as Construction to listen and respond, not least because much of the investment involved carries core-business implications for the built environment: Infrastructure, property and climate defences are the physical building blocks of the (re)insurance industry assets and liabilities, portfolio and policies. In short, Construction is in the climate business, whether it likes it or not.
Zooming in to focus on the Local View, the Strategic National Framework on Community Resilience for the UK outlines how public, private and third sector organisations, plus individuals, might work together with responders and service providers in the event of an emergency, such as Sandy. Part of the Big Society commitment, the programme seeks to promote confidence and preparedness at community level, creating a degree of embedded self-sufficiency, security and, ultimately, sustainability. The framework provides direct assistance in the form of Emergency Plans and Toolkits, plus a library of illustrative case studies tackling scenarios ranging from flu pandemics to snow clearing. Of paramount importance is the pooling of knowledge and resources to enable swift effective response.
Here again, there can be seen a clear opportunity for Construction to engage and, arguably, an obligation to do so. The industry boasts a unique and highly valuable bank of relevant knowledge and resource ideally suited to localised emergency response: Plant and equipment, from caterpillar-track off-roaders to high-vis safetywear; raw or manufactured materials, from walling and piping, to boards and sand; plus human resource with appropriate skills and trades. Whilst perhaps no flashing blue light is expected atop every white van, the sector fit is perfect for the part of the fourth emergency service.
Maybe the moment has finally come, therefore, for the industry to get up on its hind legs and demand the attention it craves by engaging actively in the debates around climate change in general and resilience planning in particular. Historically, Construction has been proud to quote the statistics for its significant contribution to GDP (even when markets are tough), but often bemoans the perceived lack of recognition and appreciation for its efforts. Today, with influence to be won, if the sector has a mind to move the agenda forward, it certainly has the muscle.
Now is the time for Construction to play its true part in the communities it serves: Stand up; speak up. An audience awaits…
Author: Jim McClelland