Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Building Climate Adaptive Infrastructure


As climate change intensifies hurricanes, flooding, and drought, businesses in the United States recognise the potentially high cost of vulnerability, with flooding being a prime example. According to a study conducted by the First Street Foundation and Arup, approximately 730,000 retail, office, and multi-unit residential properties in the United States are at risk of flood damage. The potential structural damage from this probabilistic flooding is $13.5 billion, with a total of 3 million lost working days. To make matters worse, local economies would lose nearly $50 billion as a result of lost business output and indirect effects that have a cascading effect down the economic chain.

While the worst-case scenarios are concerning, the global community increased its use of clean renewable energy and electric vehicles in 2022, resulting in lower total carbon emissions. Companies are doing their part by developing climate-adaptive, long-term business models. Black & Veatch recommends that they integrate resilience into their infrastructure and operational culture, beginning with the following five targeted actions:

1 Mitigating climate vulnerabilities
Climate analytics assist businesses in determining the likelihood of climate hazards and the resulting effects on their operations. With this information, businesses can allocate funds to adapt or mitigate their buildings, systems, or functions to the anticipated risk.

Black & Veatch recently assessed how hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions could affect a major East Coast utility's infrastructure. In-house meteorologists analysed 70 years of tropical systems to create a tropical "storm scale" that measured storm intensity, overall aerial coverage, flooding, and impacts on the utility's service territory. For this data, Black & Veatch developed a recurrence interval for the utility's current service area using a combined total scoring index. This comprehensive analysis yielded the 20-year storm damage index, which was modelled using historical storm cost data.

The final storm reserve analysis is being used by the utility to understand its vulnerability, inform adaptation and mitigation efforts, and plan financially for the potential costs of climate change. A similar application can help businesses reduce their exposure.

2. Decarbonizing energy 
In the United States, the commercial sector consumes 12% of total energy consumption, and some commercial facilities, such as data centers, consume 3 to 5 million gallons of water per day. It's no surprise that businesses frequently prioritise resource reduction and decarbonization in order to save money, build resilience, and reduce their environmental impact. Many technologies can provide compound benefits in one application with the right engineering alchemy.

Case in point: the Nautilus Data Center in Port of Stockton, California. The facility cools the data centre with recirculated water from a nearby source, and the water body acts as a heat sink. Nautilus uses no water, produces no wastewater, and does not require refrigerants, water treatment chemicals, cooling towers, or computer room air handlers due to its innovative design. The technology consumes less than one-third of the energy that traditional computer room air-conditioning would. California is home to the world's first zero-water consumption data center, thanks to Nautilus' innovation and Black & Veatch engineering.

3. Ecological Resilience
Sustainability actions are frequently carried out within the operational boundaries of a business, community, or service district. However, the best plans for sustainable systems span geography and ecology in order to highlight an area's natural resilience features and work in tandem with Mother Nature.

Babcock Ranch in Florida is a great example. Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm that made landfall in Florida in October, knocked out power to 2.6 million Floridians. Despite being about 20 miles from the storm's landfall, shops, offices, grocery stores, restaurants, and homes in Babcock Ranch experienced no power or internet outages.

Sustainable design, engineering, and construction practices are at the heart of Babcock Ranch's resilience. Previously drained cattle ranchland, for example, was allowed to revert to natural wetlands, which act like retention ponds to absorb excess rain and floodwater. Native plants make up 75 percent of the landscaping in the community, and they can withstand high winds and soggy conditions, reducing storm impacts.

At the heart of the community's energy infrastructure are the Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center and the Babcock Preserve Solar Energy Center. Each centre, which spans 870 acres, can generate 75 megawatts (MW) of clean energy capacity thanks to 680,000 solar panels and a 1-MW battery energy storage system. Despite hurricane-force winds of up to 150 miles per hour, Babcock Ranch's solar panels remained intact and operational, supplying resilient, decarbonized energy.

Communities, perhaps as Mother Nature intended, are embracing ecological processes and designing hardscapes that are environmentally friendly — and for good reason. Streets that divert water away from homes and businesses, as well as hardy native vegetation and underground electric distribution wires and communication infrastructure, protect and strengthen critical services and functions, thereby increasing resilience.

4. Power of data 
Tools like Envision, an infrastructure rating tool, can be useful when businesses plan to develop or upgrade their infrastructure. Envision measures and tracks resource use in order to identify opportunities to use local sourcing and reduce emissions, energy, and water consumption, thereby optimising long-term project costs. Businesses set and achieve environmental and resilience goals, increasing resource stewardship while minimizing cost and functionality.

Data assists businesses in aligning their activities with local conditions in order to support regional environmental goals or reduce vulnerability to hazards. Wind energy, for example, is gaining popularity among businesses and institutions.

Alliant Energy was recently recognized as the first wind farm developer to receive Platinum Envision verification for its Upland Prairie and English Hills projects. To deliver five utility-scale wind farms totaling 470 MWs across Iowa, Black & Veatch assembled an integrated team of accredited Envision Sustainability specialists, as well as environmental permitting, water, and renewable energy engineering experts.

5. Sustainability Culture
Increasing resilience frequently entails implementing new technologies, such as an electric fleet or clean energy systems. Sustainable operations will fail if end users do not embrace, learn, and adopt the new way of doing things. They will also fail to achieve the expected return on investment.

A sustainable practices organizational strategy will help determine and manage operational impacts, maintain morale as new technologies are introduced, ensure staff skills evolve to support new operations, and align outcomes with goals. A good plan articulates strategic business goals clearly and allows for flexibility if something isn't working and needs to be tweaked.

While the International Energy Administration reports significant progress in the global effort to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the need for greener, more resilient, and adaptable infrastructure in commercial businesses and beyond remains. These changes are being driven by design and engineering innovation, which is resulting in cleaner, more resilient versions of essential systems that work in tandem with the built and natural environments.