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Hollie Janson Schmidt, director, resilient + sustainability business advisory at Jacobs, will be participating in a panel discussion at Environment Analyst’s Global Business Summit later this month, where she will explore how to develop resilient and sustainable infrastructure. Here, she offers a preview of her thoughts.


In my role at Jacobs, I regularly see that many organizations want to be more resilient and sustainable and want to address social and environmental inequities, but do not always know how to bridge the gap between ambition and action. They are up against competing priorities for funding, resourcing and short-term strategies.

But there are many benefits that can be made through implementing resilient and sustainable solutions. These can be financial, through reduced costs and life cycle savings, as well as non-financial, such as health, wellness, equity, natural stewardship, community relations, social value, environmental justice, natural capital, water and air quality, and branding. We need to expand the focus from solely return on investment, to include return on perception.

So how can we do this in practice?

The key to driving transformation into your business is to evaluate your pre-design processes holistically and comprehensively, with clearly stated metrics and outcomes. This means conducting hyper-local and predictive vulnerability assessments that drive site-specific performance standards for how your facilities and assets must perform under acute shocks and enduring stressors. 

 We need to expand the focus from solely return on investment, to include return on perception

The vulnerability assessments should not only address the physical environment of climate change, natural disasters, land management, infrastructure and buildings, but must also address the human and social environment, as well as the business environment. Assessments should evaluate your entire operational footprint, including everything inbound such as supply chain and support services, as well as everything outbound, like by-products and waste streams. They should analyze future timescales, identifying potential impacts in 20, 40 or 80 years’ time.

From reactive, ‘run-to-fail’, to proactive and resilient

Only then will your assessment uncover the comprehensive vulnerabilities that must be mitigated. You can then transition from a reactive, run-to-fail state to a proactive, resilient enterprise.

After the performance standards are established, design and technical guidelines should be developed that are specific to the site and building typologies of your specific mission and business and driving the performance standards into action.

These guidelines should be integrated into your request for proposal (RFP) language and pre-design guidance, include performance metrics that hold the project managers accountable, clearly map to your external commitments and ambitions, and be accounted for in the budgeting cycle. If a budget does not allow for increased capital expenditure (CAPEX) spending, with the clear understanding that there is a compelling return on investment, it will not be achieved.

Whenever I’ve been involved in a comprehensive life-cycle business case analysis on large-scale, multi-billion-dollar projects comparing building to baseline (code) against being more resilient and sustainable, I’ve seen that with an increased CAPEX investment of 5-25%, the return on investment for operation and maintenance can be significant. There is often a compelling pay-back period and the non-financial values have often increased by double or triple digits.

The greatest return comes from investing in predictive maintenance that utilizes smart systems, sensors and monitoring.

Sustainable solutions are increasingly getting better green-lending terms, with better rates, and this can offset the increased CAPEX. The non-financial returns, which are traditionally hard to measure, have become easier to quantify and monetize due to innovative and thought-provoking analysts. 

And finally, taking opportunities to incorporate best practices such as risk-based asset management, nature-based solutions, low impact development principles, social and environmental justice, equity, health & wellbeing and circular economies into your solutions will yield the most effective resilient and sustainable infrastructure.


To be resilient is to be strong and prepared against the inbound shocks and stressors from the physical, human and business environments. To be sustainable is to have a net zero/net positive outcome on how we develop and impact our environments. These need to work hand in hand to develop effective and enduring resilient and sustainable infrastructure.

Hollie Janson Schmidt

Hollie Janson Schmidt is global senior director of sustainability & climate response for the Americas region, Jacobs.

Hollie provides consulting and advisory services to a wide range of public, private, and federal clientele, with expertise in the integrated planning and delivery approach and a particular focus on large-scale, complex projects. She also manages the company’s resilience & sustainability business advisory for both internal project delivery and growth and external client services.

Hear from Hollie at Environment Analyst’s Global Business Summit later this month on 27-28 June in Chicago, where she will be joining a panel discussion alongside Bentley Systems, Climate Resilience Consulting, the US Dept. of Transportation and AECOM.

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