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Resourceful societies: actions to increase self-sufficiency, cooperation and help balance resources

The health crisis and other ongoing conflicts have revealed the vulnerabilities of our society and shown us how highly dependent communities are on the flow of global supplies. However, crises also represent opportunities to learn and to prepare for the future. In this sense, could supply crises help us to become more resilient?


Recent supply-chain crises have emphasised the need for resilience in the way we organise our society. Disruptions in the distribution of basic supplies such as food, water and electricity add additional risks to the vital functions of society (e.g., increasing costs of living, decreasing the welfare of individuals, involuntary migration, social conflict etc.). Such chain reactions are replicated at multiple levels placing new demands on our urban environments. This is why more cities are now exploring innovative ways to deal with shortages, disruptions and environmental stressors.

Alternative supply chains help diversify our options, reaching the required level of self-sufficiency, increasing the possibility of response and mitigation in crisis situations and optimising resources to reduce pressure at either a local or global level.

From emergency to resilience

How can we develop a resourceful society, better prepared to address the disruption of supply chains? What actions are needed to increase a communities’ capacity to assess, adapt and act?  How can we optimise resources and develop sustainable and resilient food, water and energy systems in uncertain times?

By exploring the measures required to develop ‘Resourceful Societies’, Sweco experts from different disciplines dive into various strategies to boost resilience, each of them focusing on different actions such as minimising the impact of a crisis, ‘bouncing forward’ and systemic change.

#1 Minimising impact

Solar Energy Resilience – Emergency power from solar panels during blackouts

The first stage of building greater resilience minimises the impact of a supply crisis and increases the effectiveness of response in emergency situations. A resourceful society must, therefore, guarantee autonomous and diversified access to basic resources. A good example of this is creating greater resilience for households.

The Urban Insight study ‘Solar energy resilience: emergency power from solar panels during blackouts’ highlights the role of solar power in mitigating the disruption caused by power outages.  In this study, Sweco analyses how resilience could be enhanced through the installation of residential solar-energy panels and emergency inverters.

Few people are aware that solar panels do not work during a power outage. If all new residential solar-energy installations installed from 2023 to 2028 incorporate emergency inverters, then 8% of all nine studied European country’s population could have access to electricity during power outages. By connecting three neighbouring households to a system, this coverage could be extended to 33%. Out of the nine European countries included in the Sweco study, the Netherlands stands out with the highest potential to boost energy resilience, potentially covering almost 100% of its population. Conversely, countries in Northern Europe are the least prepared.

The remarkable growth of distributed photovoltaic systems in Belgium demonstrates a strong commitment to renewable energy. By investing an additional 400 EUR, residents can secure uninterrupted power supply even during unforeseen disruptions. – Alexandra Lybaert, Program Manager Energy Transition at Sweco Belgium.

#2 Bouncing forward

Resource-based communities,
from wasteful to resourceful – optimising energy, water and food systems

The second stage of building greater resilience is called ‘bouncing forward’. This refers to going forward after a crisis rather than returning to the original way of doing things. In a resourceful society, bouncing forward includes innovative development models, which anticipate risks but which in turn respond to multiple other societal and environmental needs.

Communities that are better supplied and with higher levels of social equality are less vulnerable and, therefore, more resilient. The way that society organises the management of resources creates, on the one hand, intelligent symbiotic relationships between lifestyle, consumption patterns and the environment and, on the other hand, consolidates fundamental models of cooperation.

In the Urban Insight White Paper ‘Resource-based communities’, Sweco experts explore the importance of collective production and the optimisation of food, water and energy supply through principles and good practices that go beyond the crisis situation and seek to generate systemic change. By presenting Sweco’s best practices from across Europe, experts showcase how best to strengthen supply networks and build resilient communities by optimising energy, water and food systems.

At Terbekehof, we’ve established an energy community of five firms and a collective water buffering. The rising interest with the other firms on-site highlights a trend towards sustainable, resilient business parks. Once legislation allows, we’ll activate ‘island mode’ for steady power during outages – a major leap in energy resilience. – Daan Ongkowidjojo, Manager Energy for Society at Sweco Belgium.

#3 Systemic change

A new toolkit sets out the key steps to achieving urban resilience and climate governance

The third stage of building greater resilience involves scaling up the actions needed to boost resilience in a systematic way through their capacity to expand, replicate and influence other strategies and places. Actions linked to systemic change include the facilitation of processes, the implementation of multidisciplinary methods and the creation of capacities with the fundamental support of technology and digital tools.

Sweco uses a combination of different digital tools in the form of a toolkit to support cities who wish to build more resourceful neighbourhoods and specifically with the aim of boosting resilience by visualising and quantifying all relevant information from carbon emissions to social-value creation.

Digital tools and methods could tell us more about a neighbourhood’s local resources and help map and visualise sources, reduce carbon emissions and increase climate resilience. – Elise Grosse, Head of Sustainability, Sweco Architects.