By: The Brendle Group Leadership Team

At Brendle Group, we like to think of our time in generations of impact. When Judy Dorsey kicked off Brendle Group’s adventure in 1996, sustainability was a nascent concept just beginning to be defined in theory and practice. Back then, we were focused on developing the sustainability model – leaning heavily on economic and environmental predecessors. Sustainability didn’t have any guidelines or protocols. Things like LEED certification and sustainability planning at a community scale were just glimmers of ideas and dreams. The official launch of LEED didn’t happen until 2000 and global protocols for community-scale greenhouse gas emissions accounting launched in 1998. The triple bottom line approach – arguably the backbone of today’s sustainability accession – shook out at the World Summit in 2002.

In looking back, major strides in telecommunications and the rise of the digital economy have had huge economic, environmental, and social impacts in the communities and industries we serve – both good and bad.  As well, these changes have revolutionized the ways in which engineering, planning, and sustainability services are being delivered to the market place. The term “digital economy” had just been coined in 1995 and the first handheld devices were just arriving. Back then, tools and computing power were a fraction of what Brendle Group uses every day now – and that doesn’t even bring to bear the serious lack of sustainability-related data and analytics that have begun to emerge over the last few years. And let’s not forget the joys of dial-up internet with its accompanying tone as we logged into AOL or CompuServe services to get email or send files.

Despite these limitations, the late 1990s and early 2000s were an exciting time for sustainability. Opportunities for improvement were endless. We’re proud to have been part of establishing industry best practice, and the guest blogs in this newsletter share some of the major partnerships that we formed during our early years in this nascent space.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As we look to the future, we’re shifting our focus to integrating the three elements of the triple bottom line to maximize resiliency. Sustainability has matured and evolved as have the needs and driving its principals.  There is now a plethora of data available that has driven more need to synthesize and communicate ideas and information more simply and coherently. We hope to see improvements in social sustainability, equity, and resiliency. We think Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that social sustainability principals will dominate our discourse and practice – being more responsive to people living in environmental conditions that affect their day-to-day health, equity, and prosperity.

We also hope to see significant strides in the carbon economy and in the electrification of the energy economy. As renewable energy becomes more commoditized, costs will continue to fall. We’ll see energy storage capacity significantly increase with options for energy investment continuing to grow. Onsite and distributed energy generation and net zero energy will become the norm. Utilities of the future will evolve to provide a broad array of products and offerings, becoming community partners in ways we are just beginning to test and explore.  Bi-directional energy communication will become mainstream with data availability and transparency, creating opportunities for new technologies and companies to analyze, manage, mitigate, and shape individual, corporate, and utility decision making.

The unfortunate reality is that climate science is not wrong. Climate science helps us frame the realities of our changing systems.  The impacts of climate-related changes will be felt much more intensely than they are today; necessitating that climate resiliency and adaptation will grow to be equally as important as the direct mitigation of factors that contribute to climate change. Working to make an impact in this space, we plan to visualize – and develop – innovative solutions to these growing problems. Along this line, we’ll seek more holistic approaches to finding solutions. Adaptation and resiliency will require broad partnerships with public and private stakeholders across regions and jurisdictions and across nations and economies.  We strongly believe solutions to these big challenges lie at the intersections of energy, climate, and water. It will take hard work, broad stakeholder participation, civil discourse, and engagement that understands sustainability problems are not win or lose, but multi-objective layers of often competing interests.

We’ve seen Sustainability move from a foreign concept in which we had to overcome the “cost center mentality” (20 years ago) to an accepted part of triple bottom line business sense (today). We hope the future for sustainability is one in which science and technology can help solve wicked problems in a way that fulfills our responsibility to our environment and each other in a socially responsible manner.