Resilience is dominating conversations in the environmental and business worlds right now, but do we know what it actually means?
To be clear, resilience is not interchangeable with sustainability. While the two are connected and interrelated, resilience is just a piece of the sustainability puzzle.
The common understanding of sustainability comes from the Brundtland Report, which defined it as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This definition is an iteration of the long-held Native American 7th Generation Principle.
Meanwhile, resilience is the capacity for an entity to survive and prosper in the face of shocks and stresses. Surviving and adapting to difficulties is an important part of sustainability, and lately has become a much larger part of the picture.
Impacts of today
California is currently battling the largest wildfire in state history, and this wildfire season is shaping up to be the worst ever. Hurricane Harvey totalled $125 billion in damages, and similar flooding is in the future for Texas. Miami is beginning to flood during high tides in the face of sea level rise, destroying infrastructure and property regularly, while a future storm may cause irreparable damage.
More extreme events are happening at a higher frequency, incurring high costs to society and business. These effects of climate change are forcing resilience to dominate the conversation.
In a resilience framework, these sudden events are classified as “shocks.” Less visual, but still just as damaging, are the slow-burning “stressors” such as chronic water shortages, unemployment, and soil degradation. Both shocks and stressors threaten the ability to survive, and they both must be taken into account when building resilience.
[We are] shifting the conversation from “How do we stop climate change?” to “How do we both lessen and survive the impacts of climate change?”
It is these shocks and stressors that are shifting the conversation from “How do we stop climate change?” to “How do we both lessen and survive the impacts of climate change?”
Planning for tomorrow
Dedicating resources to resilience is a tricky balancing act. You have to both prepare for the shocks and stressors of today while creating sustainable systems that lessen the impacts of climate change for tomorrow. The lesser those impacts, the easier they will be to rebound from and overcome. Although society is more apparently feeling the effects of man-made climate change, we are not past the point of no return.
You have to both prepare for the shocks and stressors of today while creating sustainable systems that lessen the impacts of climate change for tomorrow.
Countries, cities, and businesses are taking decisive actions to build resilience, actions that must be replicated and expedited. The Paris Agreement has a stated goal of “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the temperature goal.” This is a clear statement that while resilience and adaptation are necessary, less adaptation will be needed if the impacts of climate change are lessened.
Ignoring and avoiding resilience is simply bad planning and bad business.
In the absence of strong federal leadership from the United States, non-governmental organizations and cities are taking charge. The Rockefeller Foundation funded 100 Resilient Cities has implemented projects and strategies in 46 cities across the world ranging from zero-emission public vehicle fleets to more efficient sewage services. Organizations like BlackRock are elevating the environmental, social, and governance performance of their assets to make decisions around construction, supply-chain management, and investments.
Why are they all doing this? Because they understand that inaction around resilience will drain their money and resources, a drain possibly large enough to cause their own demise. Ignoring and avoiding resilience is simply bad planning and bad business. So, to the cities and businesses avoiding conversations around this scary and sometimes uncomfortable topic, what are you waiting for?