A sustainability rating system developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure provides a scale and adaptable framework for evaluating the sustainability of an infrastructure that both stakeholders and the public easily understand.
Bioretention system, or rain garden, in Portland, US.jpg. Source: EmilyBlueGreen at English Wikipedia
Bioretention ponds are one example of sustainable infrastructure that brings aesthetic as well as environment benefits to communities.
As the public becomes more aware of the potential environmental and health risks associated with failing or poorly designed infrastructure, they demand new projects address sustainability issues. For example, as people learned about the Flint water supply containing dangerous levels of lead, they sought information about possible contamination of their own tap water. In addition, as rapid urban development focuses on increased density, community groups and activists demand officials consider the impact infrastructure projects will have on the quality of life experienced by those living in nearby neighborhoods as well as any potential health risks. Given the complexity of infrastructure projects, engineers, and environmental consultants face the challenge of communicating the sustainable value their work brings to a community. What can engineers and environmental consultants use to explain the sustainability of their projects to a public wary of greenwashing?
Envision: A Flexible and Scalable Sustainability Assessment Tool for Use with Infrastructure Projects
Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol assessment of Landsvirkjun’s Hvammur Hydropower Project, Iceland. Source: International Hydropower Association – Flickr
Even though hydropower is considered a sustainable energy source, the public still has concerns about its effect on wildlife and drinking water supplies downstream.
As a means to facilitate the evaluation of the sustainability of infrastructure projects, as well as to communicate the results of the assessment to the public in an accessible, easy-to-understand manner, the Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure developed a rating system and framework. The Envision tool consists of comprehensive guidance and metrics for use throughout infrastructure projects, from the planning stages to completion. This no-cost package uses the latest and best practices for sustainable infrastructure projects as the basis of the recommendations it includes. The rating system provides clear metrics used to give as many as 60 credits for a project. Each credit has up to five achievement levels, ranging from Improved to Restorative, allowing the project engineers to demonstrate various types of sustainable practices in creative and innovative ways.
The Benefits of Using the Envision Framework
The Director of Sustainable Projects at the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, Melissa Peneycad, ENV SP, outlined the benefits of the Envision framework and rating system recently in CE Magazine. The advantages she cites include the following:
- Engineers and consultants have the choice of using Envision as a standalone system or they may use it along with other sustainability ratings, such as LEED.
- Envision addresses all the potential impacts of an infrastructure project in terms of the nearby community, the environment, and economy.
- The easy to understand Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum award levels make the results of an infrastructure project easily understood by both the public and shareholders.
- The Envision system is adaptable and scalable for all types of infrastructure work ranging from small jobs to major work.
- Since the stakeholders are encouraged to brainstorm during the conceptualization of a project, innovative approaches to addressing infrastructure sustainability challenges
- Other ways Envision fosters innovation is by avoiding prescribing set solutions to sustainability dilemmas and by rewarding novel ways to address sustainability in infrastructure.
The popularity of Envision has led to the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure to develop the credential for Envision Sustainability Professional. For more information about Envision, including case studies, visit the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure learning center.
University of Liverpool Heating Infrastructure Project. Source: By Rept0n1x via Wikimedia Commons
How do you evaluate the sustainability of infrastructure projects? How do you communicate your findings to the public and stakeholders?