It Ain't Easy Seeing Green

Margaret Cederoth

Green is the new black. And the trend sees design and construction industry project teams certifying the "greenness" of buildings through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. But the rating for the environmental impact of horizontal infrastructure such as runways and aprons lags due to the lack of a comparably influential certification standard. That has changed.

One promising universal framework is Envision(tm), which was developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure - a joint venture of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Public Works Association and the American Council of Engineering Companies. The system has gained tremendous support and interest within the infrastructure industry in the past several years and with good reason.

Margaret Cederoth 
Margaret Cederoth is a sustainability manager at WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff in California. Her credentials include certifications from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, U.S. Green Building Council and American Institute of Certified Planners.

Companies can leverage Envision by using its project evaluation tools, which are publically available at no cost. They can also seek third-party certification of completed ventures through the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. Like other reputable sustainability frameworks, Envision considers projects from conceptual planning through operation. Departments of transportation, public works units and various municipal bodies were among the first to apply its criteria to projects. Some encourage staff members to obtain the associated professional certification, ENV SP, in order to saturate their organizations with an understanding of infrastructure sustainability. A few organizations have even begun requiring an ENV SP on certain projects. 

Within our industry, the consolidated rental car facility at Logan International Airport earned Envision certification when it was completed in late 2013. The project's innovative design exemplifies the economic, social and environmental sustainability principles that the system evaluates. 

Specifically, Envision scores projects on 60 sustainability criteria within five categories:

• Quality of Life, 

• Leadership, 

• Resource Allocation, 

• Natural World, and 

• Climate and Risk.  

Many organizations use the system as an informal checklist to provide an initial snapshot during the early planning phase of projects. Some apply it more stringently through self-assessment performed by an ENV SP professional. Others seek official third-party review to verify internal findings. Formal evaluation through the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure allows projects to be recognized at various achievement levels: platinum, gold, silver, or bronze - similar to the LEED system. 

Envision was conceived, in part, as a governance tool to help municipalities work effectively across traditional infrastructure silos and ensure that various projects work synergistically to enhance communities. Its use as a stand-alone project evaluation tool is still in the pilot stage. Currently, there are no prerequisites that all projects much achieve. While this would generally cause concern for third-party verifiers, corrections for this discrepancy are currently being developed. In addition, projects that are well-planned can garner good scores, even if a contractor or operator fails to deliver adequate resource efficiency or protection. As more infrastructure teams begin using the framework, the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure is incorporating lessons learned and continuously improving and streamlining its process and framework.

At present, Envision does not specifiy a particular method for tracking criteria from planning through delivery. In many cases, a cloud-based database may be an appropriate tool, because it can: chronicle pertinent project details; allow multiple points of user access; monitor Envision metrics; store appropriate records and generate reports to demonstrate performance. Many teams already use such cloud-based systems to track compliance with environmental regulations. So adaptating Envision to the cloud should not prove to be an impediment.

So, what does an Envision implementation cost? After a $1,000 registration fee, the costs for smaller capital projects are fairly modest, between $2,400 to $3,000 for projects under $2 million. Costs scale up for larger projects, up to $33,000 for projects in the $100 to $250 million range, to match the complexity and size of larger projects. 

Green is the new black. Except that while other colors may fade, being green will never go out of fashion. In that regard, Envision is a beneficial framework for assessing any type of infrastructure - vertical or horizontal. It can be particularly helpful during the planning stages of an infrastructure project, when multi-agency technical advisory teams are at the table. On a broader scale, it provides an excellent set of best practices and helps teams integrate suites of capital projects to achieve added value for the environment, economy and their communities. 

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