Snapshot on Sustainability: The Word is Out

Just over a year ago I started this blog to better understand what people think about the concepts and principles of sustainability. Early in the series I wrote an entry on resilience and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Unfortunately, the experience has been more like marbles rolling around in a labyrinth getting stuck in all the corners than a meditative walk along a winding pathway.

Apparently, the rest of Los Angeles has also been thinking about resilience. Following the successful launch of USGBC-LA / Building Resilience-LA’s (BRLA) Resilience LA: A Primer for Facilities, classes on resilience have been springing up across and beyond the county at conferences, industry gatherings, USGBC chapters and at LA Metro. Now, the City of Los Angeles has just published Resilient Los Angeles, a comprehensive call to action for all of us who live, work, and play in this city of angels, and which includes several key elements from BRLA’s primer.

I’ve been reading the documents and attending the classes mentioned above and as I think about this city where I was born and live, I can attest to how much has changed and the wave of possibilities that abound as never before, but I also relate to the cries for more.

To do each of the 96 calls for action the Mayor asks for, to make sense of each and get behind efforts to ideate and implement each – well, that exhausts me. If my thought is solely emergency preparedness, I might invest in a back-up generator, but if I’m not thinking about increased flooding, that generator might end up sitting under water. We must be careful not to isolate solutions, yet we must also not over-analyze to the point of inaction.

We need a systems-based approach that raises general awareness about the many variables to consider in finding solutions that address multiple challenges.   We know there are no bullet-proof assets. There will be events that disrupt, interrupt, derail and seriously threaten daily life.

Where Resilient Los Angeles aims to drill down into details and specific scenarios, the vastness of topics and breadth of issues to consider can overwhelm. However, I believe the intent is to find points of intersection. I like metaphors. If I see myself as a key ingredient from which many great meals can be made, I can insert my unique skills into many exciting recipes and sit around the table with friends who are also ingredients in this experience, satiated and satisfied at the end of a wonderful meal. The first time to cook together can be a bit experimental, but over time, the meals get better. We need ways to get to know each other and strategies to understand the situation so we can prioritize solutions that best meet multiple goals.

Having well-tested tools, information and processes to tap into when making decisions is powerful. Envision, G-PRO and Building Resilience classes are offering just that, while connecting people across areas of expertise to place, culture, work, and each other. These classes are creating conversations that build relationship, capacity, mutual respect, and in time, knowledge – and these relationships will solve the multifaceted, wicked problems of our day.

Building resilience is still about the basics: raising awareness about challenges, analyzing levels of risk, setting priorities, innovating solutions, and recognizing those who step up and out so they continue to lead. Yet, in a time of unparalleled opportunity to influence our built environment, what if we wait to be asked for the solutions that we do have and yet, that question never arrives? Do we let the opportunity pass? What is our responsibility in engaging our clients, policy makers, and agencies to think differently? In the medical profession, we expect our doctors to explain choices for treatment and we tell them the ones we are comfortable with. Our ideas may not always be accepted for implementation, but they will never even be considered if they are unknown. Creating opportunity through higher standards, enlightened and informed policies, and more comprehensive project specifications drive change. The question is, where do we want to go and which pathway will we take to get there?

Thank you to Heather Joy Rosenberg and Doug Dietrich for our conversations that lead to this piece.

I’m curious what you think and I hope you will join me in conversations and classes on resilience happening around Los Angeles. Some are available through USGBC-LA. I hope to see you soon, but in the mean time, join the conversation by contacting me directly at or leaving your thoughts by posting a comment below.

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