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U.S. Green Building Council Adopts Resilient Building and Design Standard ‘RELi’

Developed in conjunction with Perkins+Will, the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS), and others, RELi—like LEED, but for resilience—prescribes methods for designing more resilient buildings, neighborhoods, and communities

Global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will announced today that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has formally adopted RELi, the resilience consensus standard the firm helped to develop in 2012 with the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS).

What is RELi?
RELi is a prescriptive “roadmap”—similar in format to the USGBC’s LEED rating system—that helps architects, city planners, developers, governments, and businesses design buildings, neighborhoods, and communities to better withstand shocks and stressors, like hurricanes, super storms, drought, heat waves, earthquakes, and even social volatility. RELI’s adoption by the USGBC means that the standard will soon become a global rating system under the USGBC’s rubric, similar to but independent from LEED, and will be managed and operationalized by USGBC and the Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI).

“We are delighted, if not humbled, that the USGBC is embracing this innovative tool that we and our partners have worked on so diligently and so passionately for the last half-decade,” says Doug Pierce, principal investigator for RELi and co-director of Perkins+Will’s Resilience Research Lab. “What we’re seeing now is the merging of thought leadership from some of the world's most progressive designers and thinkers with the global organizing capacity of the USGBC. It’s going to create unprecedented potential for market transformation toward resilience planning and resilient design.”

RELi and LEED
Like LEED, RELi will award points for various credits across multiple credit categories. In fact, it even incorporates many LEED prerequisites and credits for sustainability. However, it also introduces a comprehensive series of new criteria focused on environmental, social, and economic considerations for resilience, such as Fundamental Access to First Aid, Emergency Supplies, Water, Food, and Communications; Adaptive Design for Extreme Rain, Sea Rise, Storm Surge, and Extreme Weather, Events, and Hazards; Develop or Expand Local Skills, Capabilities, and Long-Term Employment; Provide for Social Equity and Edible Landscaping, Urban Agriculture, and Resilient Food Production.

“Resilience planning must be thorough. It must consider all of the ripple effects—what we call ‘cascading consequences’—of shocks and stressors,” says Janice Barnes, global resilience director and co-director of the Resilience Research Lab at Perkins+Will. “Our communities, our neighborhoods, and our buildings are all interconnected. If an electric sub-station miles away from your building gets flooded by an extreme rain event, you could experience a power outage. If your local economy is weakened by globalization, this could impact your financial stability, access to services, and health and wellbeing. The comprehensive nature of RELi is a response to this, allowing for hazard preparation and adaptation, as well as chronic risk mitigation.”

Pilot Projects and RELi APs
RELi is currently being used by pilot projects in Washington, D.C., Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Texas—including the Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City and the Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi (which, incidentally, withstood Hurricane Harvey with little to no damage). These pilot projects, once complete, will help refine the certification component of the standard and establish RELi’s points system, scoring, and certification levels.

They are also the first projects to benefit from the strategic guidance of RELi Accredited Professionals (APs). RELi APs have undergone a comprehensive training and testing pilot program though MTS that demonstrates a mastery of resilient design concepts. The program couples RELi credit training with “applied whole systems thinking” for complex problem-solving. Similar to the LEED AP program, credential maintenance for RELi APs is required. There are currently 12 RELi APs worldwide; all of them are design professionals from Perkins+Will.

RELI’s Economic Benefits
As part of the USGBC’s adoption of RELi, a new “Resilience Steering Committee”—similar to the USGBC’s LEED Steering Committee—has been formed by MTS and the USGBC. The committee, chaired by Doug Pierce of Perkins+Will and vice-chaired by Alex Wilson of the Resilient Design Institute, is charged with further refining the RELi standard to maximize its usefulness in the marketplace. Once rolled out and implemented nationwide, RELi will have major economic advantages, according to Mike Italiano, CEO of MTS.

“Resilience planning and adaptation are some of the most expensive public and private activities in U.S. history,” Italiano says. “Independent research shows that the U.S. has tens of trillions of dollars in resilience costs, with Pennsylvania’s and Massachusetts’s costs alone reaching into the trillions. S&P and Moody’s are issuing climate credit rating downgrades for entities that are not resilient, and the insurance industry is withdrawing from high-risk markets because the industry considers climate change ‘an uninsurable risk.’ When applied to buildings, homes, and infrastructure, our national consensus standard, RELi, can greatly reduce these unprecedented costs and risks.”

RELI’s History
The development of RELi began five years ago through an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) consensus standard-setting process led by MTS, an ANSI-accredited standard developer. Content creation was led by Perkins+Will, with Eaton Corporation, Deloitte Consulting, and Impact Infrastructure providing additional expertise and assessments. The RELi National Consensus Standard Version 1.0 was balloted and approved December 1, 2014.