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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

Sound Business Decision-making in a Changing Climate

*** As published in the ACEC-BC supplemental issue for Business in Vancouver, Fall 2019 ***

Sound Business Decision Making in a Changing Climate

The rate of change in our climate is unprecedented. With accelerating climate change, no business, individual or government agency remains untouched, be it through physical hazards like heavier rainfall and flooding or policy changes such as more stringent emission regulations.  Global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (climate change “mitigation”) will reduce the extent of climate changes.  At the same time, significant changes to our climate are assured because of the greenhouse gases emitted to date. We must prepare to respond to these changes (climate change “adaptation") where the impacts may be chronic, such as sea level rise and temperature increase, or more immediate, such as severe weather events.  Climate change adaptation is essential to reduce risks and build resiliency to the severe impacts of the changing climate.

Effective climate change mitigation and adaptation are underpinned by sound decision-making and substantive action. Much attention has been focussed on public sector initiatives that span the local, regional, provincial and national governments, as well as the research community. However, the private sector also has an important role in delivering effective solutions to a changing climate.  

BC’s consulting engineering companies, which are responsible for the design and delivery of public and private-sector infrastructure, are often the bridges between the public and private sectors. The consulting engineering industry’s collective experience in the design, construction, operation, rehabilitation, and deconstruction of the built environment places engineers at the nexus of society’s climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. 

The rate of change in the climate challenges how codes, standards, regulations, training, and best practice respond to the current and future physical realities of our changing climate. The response requires an integrated approach between government, policy makers, and professionals, including professional engineers who have played, and will continue to play, a critical role in developing the response.  

Sound Business Decision Making in a Changing Climate

Today, BC’s consulting engineers are contributing to new codes, standards and guidelines, from buildings to bridge and highway infrastructure, assisting government agencies and regulators as they respond to the challenge of addressing climate risk. BC’s Energy Step Code will significantly improve building energy efficiency, while in 2018, Infrastructure Canada introduced the Climate Lens requiring owners to assess greenhouse gas emissions and climate change adaptation measures for infrastructure projects. Engineers Canada, has also led the development of the PIEVC (Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee) Engineering Protocol, a guideline to assess the vulnerabilities of infrastructure to extreme weather events and future changes in climate. This protocol continues to be used to today to assist both public and private-sector owners to assess their infrastructure vulnerabilities to the changing climate.  

Notwithstanding the work of regulators and professionals, climate considerations, when not well understood, are often viewed as a “nice-to-have” rather than a core value proposition and are perceived as adding complexity without benefit since the true value only becomes apparent when a climate risk is realized or the financial return realized far into the future. 

Implementing an appropriate response to climate change involves identifying potential physical impacts, tracking technological changes, and staying abreast of upcoming regulatory and professional requirements.  This culminates in the need for sound decision-making in the face of a highly uncertain future.  

Sound and structured decision-making must be fully integrated into the delivery of core services and long-term business planning. Consultants can work with owners to define the desired performance of a facility or piece of infrastructure, and the design criteria to reach that performance as well as the climate-related risks, risk tolerances, mitigations and potential costs. These factors are integrated into a risk and vulnerability plan that can help owners decide on the most appropriate way forward. Consulting engineering firms have extensive experience in using tools and rating systems such as Envision, LEED, or Green Globes, which provide a structured and transparent decision-making process to consider sustainable solutions and address climate change.  

Sound Business Decision Making in a Changing Climate

To bring certainty to an uncertain world, enhanced business processes, organizational management and project management tools must be brought to bear on the climate challenge. For example, building on corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, many organizations have embraced corporate environmental responsibility (CER) to improve their environmental management, be more environmentally sustainable, and curb the effects of climate change.  

As a further example, consulting firm, Associated Engineering developed a company-specific climate policy, including a commitment to be carbon neutral and consider climate change in every project it undertakes. A climate change task force, a comprehensive training program, recruitment of technical specialists, and careful tracking and communication of lessons learned have fostered the integration of climate change into the company’s corporate culture. 

As trusted advisors, BC’s consulting engineering companies can leverage their collective experience and knowledge to pragmatically integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions into public and private-sector infrastructure projects.  In doing so, we provide a critical contribution to society’s global climate change response. 

  • Author: Malcolm Shield and Jeremy Fyke
  • Categories: ViewPoints