by Yetsuh Frank, Managing Director, Strategy & Programs Building Energy Exchange
Originally published in Building Energy Exchange Quarterly Report (Q3 2020)

So here we are, six months in. I imagine many of you share my sense of time being warped and folded since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This period of isolation, remote work, and—for far too many—unimaginable loss, somehow feels simultaneously to have started just a few days ago and to have been going on for an eternity. Despite the many challenges this time has presented I’ve been in awe of the resilience so many of you have shown. Everywhere I turn I find colleagues and peers doubling down on their commitment to make the world a better place. More than a decade ago I pivoted from a career as an Architect to full time environmental advocacy and one of the consistent benefits of working for a mission-based organization is the community that organically surrounds you. We are very lucky at BE-Ex to attract a remarkable, and remarkably engaged, community. Seeing all of you, even via video conference, at our remote programs or in various meetings and gatherings has made these months so much easier to navigate. You all give me hope.

It’s not too much to say that our community has inspired us, and I think it shows in our work. We are involved in more projects than at any period in our 10-year history. We are growing our team, expanding the communities we interact with, and expanding the solutions we make available to the design and building industry. Our remote educational programming has been surprisingly popular, regularly drawing crowds 2 – 3 times our previous average, and attracting attendees from more than 20 countries. Later this season our educational offerings take a major step forward with the launch of BE Ex Ed, our online learning platform that will allow anyone, anywhere, anytime to access select portions of our educational content on-demand. Among many other projects, we worked with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and AKF Engineers to launch a calculator to help building owners understand their carbon footprint relative to the limits in Local law 97. And we convened a stellar Architect’s Advisory Council to explore how the design industry must better prepare for the high performance building codes that will come into effect soon. (Outcomes coming soon.)

We find that physical risk from a changing climate is already present and growing.McKinsey Global Institute

Despite how proud we are of this progress, especially in the face of so many health, economic, and political challenges, we recognize how much work remains to be done.

In January of this year, the McKinsey Global Institute published a comprehensive study on the social and economic risks posed by climate change. Building on the incredible work of Spencer Glendon, the report focuses on the significant risks associated with climate change that are already baked into the system. The findings are deeply concerning, and not just for folks with seaside real estate. Both the risks associated with climate change and the socio-economic impacts of anticipated changes are non-linear, with abrupt and shocking changes becoming the norm rather than gradual or subtle movements. Countries with lower GDP will be hit more sharply than others, but the regions seriously impacted by climate change are growing all the time.

Socioeconomic impacts are likely to propagate in a nonlinear way as hazards reach thresholds beyond which the affected physiological, human-made, or ecological systems work less well or break down and stop working altogether. This is because such systems have evolved or been optimized over time for historical climates.McKinsey Global Institute

While not surprising to those of us that have followed climate science for many years, the report is a timely reminder of the scale and urgency of the problem at hand. To face the scale of this problem, public-sector and corporate world decision makers must feature climate change as a major factor in their decision making, and financial institutions must consider the risk in their portfolios. (Watch the recording of our recent panel discussion on the Task Force for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures here). Overall, the report encourages organizations to see climate change as a physical risk to their operations, rather than simply a regulatory or transitional risk. Suddenly, where you do business is as important as any other factor. Once again, we find that the solution to climate change is buildings.

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