The Northwest of the U.S. boasts some impressive sustainable building design accomplishments, but it has not incorporated adequate seismic resilience into green standards and codes, says environmental writer Edward Wolf. He argues that the Northwest, an active seismic zone, is at high risk for devastating consequences if a temblor with the power of recent ones in New Zealand or Chile strikes.
“If a quake like Chile’s or New Zealand’s struck Oregon, where the first seismic building codes are less than two decades old, we could face the greatest human and economic catastrophe in our history,” Wolf says.
Sustainability offers a prudent hedge against many risks, including some associated with climate change, peak oil, and resource shortages. “But sustainability, at least as practiced here in the green Northwest, has been strangely silent on the subject of seismic risk,” Wolf says. “No one leads learning tours or keynotes conferences on the need to prepare our region for a megathrust earthquake.”
Wolf urges Oregon’s governor and legislature, which are crafting an energy efficient schools initiative, to incorporate seismic resilience into their plan. The initiative “should aim for ASCE-41  (engineering standards for the seismic rehabilitation of existing buildings) as well as LEED Silver,” he says.
Wolf is the latest sustainability pundit to argue for seismic resilience in green standards. In recent months, others have pointed out that a building that can withstand natural disasters is greener than one that has to be rebuilt after such events. And, the key point: Resilient, sustainable structures can save lives along with energy and water.