In “Going Green”, companies may be faced with surprising risks

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Sustainability measures such as adopting renewable energy technologies, improving energy efficiency and reducing its emissions are not only laudable for a global organization; they are essential for the future of our planet. But like any major transformation, going greener introduces risks that the company must understand, quantify and manage.

Because of the inherent benefits of sustainability measures, these risks can be overshadowed. These risks also go beyond the climate-related financial risks that regulators are already pressuring companies to disclose.

There are two main types of additional risks with financial implications: property damage and hidden greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, there is a two-part method to avoid these unintended unwanted consequences. The first part is to weigh the risk of fire or extreme weather conditions against the sustainability measures envisaged for the facilities and grounds. The second part is to look at the impact of sustainability on an entire life cycle, not just a good year.

Fire remains the main cause of property damage and business interruption for commercial and industrial activities. A fire caused, for example, by a problem with solar panel wiring will not only be a financial and reputational problem; it will produce greenhouse gases and could pollute local environments. The impact, however, goes far beyond the fire itself. The rebuilding process, from raw materials to return to service, will require the emission of additional greenhouse gases during manufacturing, transportation and installation. These broadcasts are called incorporated carbon – emissions that are incorporated into the ownership of a company. This concept can help ensure that new sustainability measures do not create new problems.

The risk of fires and outsourced natural disasters actually increases the total production of greenhouse gases over the life cycle of a facility. Insufficient fire protection increases carbon emissions by 1-2% over the life of a standard office building when considering the likelihood of a fire, the need to remove damaged materials and reconstruction, according to this engineering study. For an installation exposed to significant fire hazards, for example a heavy manufacturing facility with many combustible materials, insufficient fire protection can increase carbon emissions by 14% over its lifetime. Natural hazards such as extreme coastal winds can increase carbon emissions by 1 to 2% over the life cycle of a typical industrial building.

As these results indicate, sound sustainability measures require assertive risk management. In some cases, consensus codes and standards that are seen as the “minimum requirements” to reduce these risks simply cannot keep pace with innovation. Therefore, companies should look for proven standards and well-qualified design companies and installers who apply the latest and best proven advice available to avoid unpleasant surprises. Increasing sustainability does not necessarily mean sacrificing resilience.

Sustainable development projects and what to watch out for

Here are some sustainability initiatives and the potentially unrecognized risks they contain:

Solar panels, most of which now use photovoltaic (PV) technology, are vulnerable to electrical fires due to improper design and / or installation. Panels are often covered with combustible plastic and when placed on roofs, they can accumulate other combustible debris between the roof and the back of the panels, increasing the risk of a rooftop fire. Maintaining a clean and unobstructed area around and behind panels is especially important in areas prone to forest fires. Recent improvements to the National Electrical Code in the United States have significantly reduced the risk associated with solar panels. Some regions of the world, including Australia, are still striving to implement improved standards. If a rooftop fire occurs, fighting a solar panel fire is tricky because the system can remain electrically charged. Again, recent guidelines and more secure systems have now become standard practice.

In addition to being a fire hazard, solar panels are vulnerable to wind due to both uplift forces which can damage the panels and supporting structure as well as nearby projectiles carried by the wind. Ground-mounted systems are particularly vulnerable, as evidenced by the extensive damage to large-scale solar installations by Hurricane Maria in 2018.

All solar panels are vulnerable to damage from hail. For locations in a hail zone, such as those indicated by this US hazard map, additional measures may be necessary to ensure a durable PV panel and / or panel that can be reliably covered or repositioned to avoid the impact of hail.

Green roofs which include plants, grass and sometimes trees (also called green roofs) are popular as spaces for employees and expressions of a company’s sustainability posture, but require special design considerations, d installation and maintenance. A number of design standards are available, and weight should be the first concern. Green roofs can be heavy, especially when the ground is waterlogged from heavy rains and does not have time to drip or dry out. Wind forces on roof materials, which are greater than those at ground level, must also be considered as part of good design to avoid damage to roof equipment or surrounding structures. A solid engineering review should always be done as the first step in any project. Once in place, if not properly cared for, withered plants are extremely combustible, presenting yet another fire hazard.

Insulation. In one of the most tragic cases of the past decade, the 24-story Grenfell residential tower in London was adorned with a new insulated cladding for energy efficiency and aesthetic reasons. The highly combustible coating – and the lack of automatic sprinklers – was then attributed to the out-of-control fire of 2017. The key to avoiding these risks is to use materials certified to meet flammability requirements and / or which are used. in assemblies that have passed realistic fire tests as well as automatic fire extinguishers indoors at a minimum.

“Scrapers”. Traditionally, high-rise buildings are made of concrete and steel, but recently architects have started to develop a number of designs using compressed glued-laminated timber. The resulting buildings are sometimes called scrapers, solid wood, Where big wood. The vulnerability of these structures to fire is still being assessed. Large wooden beams tend to char rather than burn, which can allow them to maintain a level of structural integrity. But the delamination of woods due to a glue and / or a poor quality assembly can degrade their fire behavior, as was seen in 2018.

Seals, including metal supports that cause deep charring, pose other challenges. Recently, these structures have been accepted into international building codes, on condition that they require encapsulation of exposed wood with plasterboard. These measures detract from the visual appeal of the large wooden beams which make these structures an attractive statement of sustainability. The codes also judiciously require automatic fire sprinklers. The combination of char damage and water damage leaves a number of open questions regarding repair and reoccupation. If a significant part of any of these structures is damaged by fire and water, all the benefit of durability is lost.

Wind turbines, once smaller and clustered lower on the ground on rural ridges, now stands 300 meters in height. Turbines see hundreds of cases of structural collapse each year, according to a 2018 article. A review of four decades of collapses indicated that strong winds were the most common cause of failure and that the most severe losses were concentrated in the early or late stages of the expected lifespan. Although the new turbine tower and blade designs are more stable and reliable, “the chain of design, manufacture, construction, operation and maintenance still needs to be improved and cohesive,” the researchers wrote.1 Beyond the need to design extreme winds, wind turbines also require good lightning protection and measures to prevent flammable liquid fires in the generator nacelle at the blade hub. The larger the turbines, the greater the potentially negative impact on sustainability goals.

The extra “green” mile to make a business sustainable is moving from a “good to have” to a “must”, but taking modest additional steps to mitigate the risk will make the benefits real. Fortunately, as experience with insurance claims shows, cost-effective and robust design, construction, and maintenance can virtually eliminate additional risks – and ensure that a company’s sustainability goals meet or exceed expectations. of the company, its shareholders, stakeholders and employees. .

[1] Wind Turbine Tower Collapse Case: Historical Overview: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325320064_Wind_Turbine_Tower_Collapse_Cases_A_Historical_Overview

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