Sustainability and Resilience in Design

Sustainability and resilience are about people – the things we do and the ways that we can adapt to safeguard our food supplies, build safer homes that can withstand new stressors, and deed a good Earth to the generations to come. Because, if nothing changes, we will need three planets of resources just to feed the estimated 9.7 billion people on Earth in 2050.

Doing nothing is not sustainable. We can – and we must – do better.

Here’s what sustainability means to us.

The vinyl industry has embarked on a sustainability pathway that takes into account three overlapping elements:

  • environmental
  • economic
  • social

The environmental aspects of sustainability include energy use, water use, land use, and emissions. Vinyl producers adhere to strict EPA standards –and many have gone above and beyond. For example, they’ve made capital investments to strip out most of the vinyl chloride monomer from the resin, reducing exposure for workers downstream who use the resin to create products. Moreover, U.S. and Canadian vinyl resin manufacturers today produce their own chlorine at or near their PVC resin facilities. This self-reliance reduces the industry’s carbon footprint and increases worker safety.

The economic aspects of sustainability include job creation and creating consistent profitable growth. The vinyl industry employs over 350,000 skilled workers, bringing steady employment and dollars to communities across America.

The social aspects of sustainability include health, safety, diversity, and the wellbeing of the population. Many vinyl resin manufacturing plants have had no OSHA-reportable incidents for five or more years. Vinyl products manufacturers volunteer in their communities with programs like Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, and local arts organizations.

You can read more about the vinyl industry’s sustainability pathway here.

Sustainability matters when making choices about what materials to use in construction and design. So does resilience.

The role of resilience.

Resilience in design refers to the ability of a system to bounce back from stress or adapt to adversity and recover from difficulty. For example, PVC water distribution pipe is inherently flexible. As a result, the pipe remained intact following the 1971 Valencia (California) earthquake – keeping vital water supplies flowing.

In the design world, it is critical that products used in infrastructure and in buildings can withstand probable stressor events. As our climate becomes less predictable and people become more vulnerable to sea-level rises, raging forest fires, Category 5 hurricanes, and other natural disasters, we need materials that can stand up to these threats.

Vinyl scores high on the resilience meter. For example, rigid PVC interlocking seawalls are made of recycled vinyl window scrap that is highly resistant to UV radiation from the sun. Vinyl seawall systems won’t rust, rot, or fracture when exposed to salt water and extreme weather conditions.

Vinyl has aspects of sustainability and resilience.

Sustainability must take into account the resilience of people and the communities in which they reside, and how they are able to respond to changes. Whether shocks are gradual or sudden, expected or not, we need systems and structures that can bounce back and adapt when needed.

SURE House, the 2016 winner of the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, exemplifies how design choices can make a home more sustainable and resilient. Conceived and constructed by students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, SURE House was built with people in mind. The design was created with a goal of making homes more resilient after the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. The house features solar panels to minimize the energy footprint and provide a community charging hub when there are interruptions to the electric grid. The home also uses vinyl louvers to control sunlight, and vinyl decking, roofing, and some final flooring to make the home resistant to the elements. And, because it is not on stilts, SURE House maintains the atmosphere of its Jersey Shore neighborhood.