Energy Resiliency vs. Sustainability – Are They The Same?

For the past several years, Sustainability has been everywhere. It was a broad term used by environmentalists and activists to illustrate how we could be better stewards of our natural resources. Sustainability assumes that there is a system or resource that can be maintained by applying the right strategies to minimize variance or disruption. Now design and strategy professionals are looking toward Resiliency as a comprehensive solution that incorporates sustainable principles.

When you mentioned the term Sustainability, the first thought that came to most minds were practices put in place to preserve natural resources or limit their use. In other words, how can we meet the needs of the present without compromising the well-being of future generations? A sustainable mindset evaluates how we take an existing system and make sure that it can maintain itself, running continuously on it’s own. Sustainable solutions involve technologies, social change and incentives. Sustainable practices typically involve rainwater collection, reseeding to prevent deforestation and erosion, limits on fishing and hunting ecosystems. Sustainable technologies such as solar and wind are also leveraged to provide sustainable sources of energy when traditional fuels may be expensive or not readily available.

That was then, this is now. Resiliency refers to the capacity of an organization to ‘bounce back’ or adapt and flourish after a resource is eliminated or something bad happens as in the case of modern day threats such as a major system failure, population explosion, terrorism and natural disasters. Going forward, what can we learn from previous catastrophic events to help minimize the effects of a similar occurrence in the future?

The truth is, both Sustainability and Resiliency can work together. Most decision makers use the terms interchangeably. In today’s climate of extreme weather conditions, human safety, cyber attacks and other unexpected events, first responders implore Resiliency plans to restore critical services such as electricity, water, communication and shelter. How will hospitals treat patients without hot water and electricity? How will a population cope without decent shelter? How can firefighters, police and public safety officials respond to the needs of their respective communities without lights and effective communication?

In conclusion, leading government officials and business leaders must develop a systematic approach that harnesses the synergy of both terms. They look to professionals to develop the proper strategies. The demand to provide abundant energy, goods and services places a heavy burden on our existing social systems. Both Resiliency and Sustainability should coexist in support of the economy, construction, transportation systems and systems of government. How? Many times solutions are temporary and not necessarily sustainable. However, sustainable measures such as solar energy can assist in increasing the Resiliency of a community or organization. In either case, an effective strategy should be developed to make sure that any Resiliency plan is complimented by sustainable solutions, producing dividends for the long term.