By Diana Gutierrez, M.S. Civil Eng., LEED AP BD+C, Senior Sustainability Specialist
There is a new framework that can help infrastructure projects of all kinds bring greater sustainability. Envision is a rating system for evaluating community, environmental, and economic benefits for all types and sizes of civil infrastructure. It awards infrastructure projects that use transformational and collaborative approaches to assess sustainability over a project’s life cycle. The Envision tools can be used by design teams, infrastructure owners, urban planners, community groups, policy makers, regulators, and others. Project types can range from highways and roads to airports, waste water treatment plants, rail lines, pipelines and just about any kind of other horizontal infrastructure.
Envision was developed to address the growing need for measureable results to prove that infrastructure projects were indeed sustainable. In an effort to address this need, three powerhouses of infrastructure – the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Public Works Association, and the American Council of Engineering Companies – formed the non-profit Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) to develop a tool that the public and private sector could use to plan and measure the sustainability of a project. Partnering with the Zofnass Program at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, ISI came up with the Envision guidance tool and rating system that can help users think about, plan, utilize, and measure sustainability.
Envision is organized and structured into 5 categories of impact, such as Quality of Life, and Resource Allocation, each having up to five degrees of performance metrics. Although some of the metrics are more subjective, most are tied to measureable outcomes. The Envision Checklist is a web based tool available in the public domain and free to use. It gives projects a general sense of the sustainability of a project. The Envision rating system offers an independent third party review that enables projects to become eligible for an Envision award. It takes considerable time, resources, and expertise.
The Envision Checklist and the Rating System allow a project team to introduce considerations of sustainability at the right time and in the right place during the infrastructure planning and design process. Envision helps decision makers meet sustainability goals, evaluate environmental benefits, guide decisions about resources and address community and environmental priorities. It takes the long view of infrastructure projects, to assess costs and benefits over a project’s expected lifecycle, which as we all know, for infrastructure, could be 50 or more years.