Associations Envision tool for sustainable infrastructure

Associations Envision tool
for sustainable infrastructure

ASCE, ACEC, APWA, Harvard jointly develop sustainability measure for non-building projects

by DEBRA RUBIN, with LUKE ABAFFY and GREG ARAGON, ENR | June 28, 2015

Two public-sector infrastructure owners with markedly different upgrades getting underway agree on one thing — that the projects have vastly improved thanks to the use of a new tool that allows participants to measure long-term sustainability and justify how and why investments will benefit users and communities.


The Florida Dept. of Transportation has embraced use of the new Envision infrastructure sustainability rating tool presented by its design-build team that was seeking to manage the $2.3-billion upgrade of Interstate-4. FDOT program manager Loreen Bobo was intrigued that the Skanska-led team's informal use of the tool to rate its construction program resulted in Envision's version of a platinum award, which the firms included in what became a winning proposal.


While the team's project win was based on other factors as well, it has used the tool as a guide to alter project design to reflect added community input, more material reuse and boosted energy efficiency, among other things.

"We need to do the right thing when it comes to the impact we are making on our future, and doing the right thing can start by having the conversation early in the project," says Bobo, who has become the first FDOT employee trained and credentialed to use Envision.

In Madison, Wis., Envision has helped the sewerage district in winning approval of a $4.5-million project to transform an "eyesore" pump station into "a piece of community infrastructure" with added public amenities, says D. Michael Mucha, chief engineer and district director for the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District.

"Envision is a powerful accountability and quality assurance tool for the district," he says. "It allowed us to demonstrate to the public—our ratepayers—that their investment in public infrastructure is providing public value." The station is set to go to bid by next month.

In less than three years since its 2012 launch, Envision is fast becoming the tool of choice for infrastructure owners, designers and builders to measure project success in sustainability—and beyond.

"Envision is transforming how our clients are thinking about sustainability for infrastructure projects, and at a much faster pace than we imagined," says Michaella WittmannHDR's sustainability program founder and director.

"We have an internal sustainability training program and have credentialed over 200 people," adds Wittmann. "We aren’t trying to reach a % goal. Rather, we are strategically credentialing HDR leaders (so they understand the Envision goals), client leaders (so they can answer the critical questions and talk about the value of Envision) and our project designers and planners (so they can efficiently implement Envision). Some of our clients have over 100 ENV SPs on staff and many of our clients are asking us to help prepare some of their staff to take the Envision staff."

More holistic view, broadening support

The approach takes a more holistic view of infrastructure projects than in the LEED measure used on buildings. That rates sustainability through a multi-tiered, credit-award approach based on resource use, operational resilience, ecosystem restoration, life-cycle costs and return on investment, among other measures.

The product of simultaneous development over the last decade by three engineering associations—the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Public Works Association and the American Council of Engineering Cos.—and Harvard University's Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure in its graduate school of design, Envision now is managed and quasi-commercialized by an umbrella group, the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), and supported by a broadening array of industry firms.

Only six projects have gone through official Envision "verification" by ISI, akin to LEED ratings by the U.S. Green Buildings Council. But close to 30 projects are in review or close to it, says William A. Bertera, ISI president and CEO, and as many as 450 are being rated in informal self-assessments.

"There's been a lot of tire-kicking," he adds, noting that more of the better-scoring projects now are being pushed for formal appraisals "to have the success recognized." According to Bertera, at least 20% of applicants for ISI official ratings have scored better than they did in self-assessments.

Envision is critical to the industry because it is the only rating system... with the credibility, scale and reach into hundreds of thousands of capital program decision-makers... It is the only tool in the world that addresses the value of public benefit and provides real-time feedback.
— John Williams, Impact Infrastructure

"Envision is critical to the industry because it is the only rating system, among hundreds, with the credibility, scale and reach into hundreds of thousands of capital program decision-makers," says John Williams, CEO of consulting firm Impact Infrastructure, which is developing Envision capability to also measure project economic value and return on investment. "It is the only tool in the world that addresses the value of public benefit and provides real-time feedback. The existence of an objective, transparent and comparable business case makes a huge difference in dealing with stakeholders."

Stantec Vice President Marty Janowitz, whose firm is an ISI charter member, says, "Envision actually asks project teams to consider first what is the right project to pursue." Andrew Sauer, green infrastructure manager for Burns & McDonnell, adds that it "can help sell new ideas that sometimes are not even on the table."

GREEN CROTON: In May, the NYC DEP opened the nation's largest underground water filtration plant to help protect against future droughts.

GREEN CROTON: In May, the NYC DEP opened the nation's largest underground water filtration plant to help protect against future droughts.

The New York City Dept. of Environmental Protection turned to Envision after investigating "many of the 200-plus rating systems on the market" and has done 37 self-assessments on bridges, dams and water-wastewater facilities, says a spokesman. "Envision is not a 'one-size-fits-all' application," he says, adding that the agency "dug deeper" once it validated results. It now is "actively pursuing" five verifications through ISI, he says.

Some 3,200 firm and owner professionals have passed ISI's online Envision credentialing process, with Bertera predicting the number could surpass 100,000. Many firms have set internal goals for required or encouraged credentialed employees and are touting that in proposals.

HDR has credentialed more than 200 employees and are helping clients prepare their own staffs to test the Envision test, says Wittman.

Skanska "has developed an Envision training matrix that includes employees of every level throughout our heavy civil construction business unit," says a spokesman. The Madison sewerage district aims to have 100% of its engineering staff credentialed by year-end and requires the same of outside consultants.

Stantec notes its launch of an "aggressive and comprehensive strategy" last year to promote Envision internally and to clients, says Janowitz. The firm now has exceeded a goal of 100 credentialed employees and has included Envision elements in "as many proposals as possible to expose clients to this tool and way of thinking," and to show successful use on projects, he adds.


The firm helped push the Grand Bend wastewater treatment upgrade on Lake Huron in Ontario to gain ISI platinum Envision verification this month, the first such designation in Canada and the first for a global sewerage facility.

Janowitz says Stantec and client municipalities "saw a real opportunity to turn ... negative views of a wastewater treatment facility into something positive—something that would not only not be viewed as a blight on the communities, but something that would be appreciated."

He says use of Envision resulted in design changes that boosted facility resilience and short and long-term climate change risks, saved municipalities more than $7 million, and can be expanded in size, based on peak inflows and population growth. 

The Grand Bend project has already "directly contributed" to the firm's win of an even larger project in Ontario, says Janowitz. Stantec also is using Envision on other types of infrastructure projects, such as a port project in Vancouver and community development in Georgia. A transportation project is set for official certification next month.

Envision "is a highly flexible tool and is non-prescriptive in nature unlike some other rating systems that are designed to apply to one type of project," he adds. "It encourages project teams to challenge assumptions and the status quo."

Los Angeles County's Public Works Dept. also earned platinum status for its Sun Valley Watershed Project, a first of its kind, says Youn Sim, sustainability manager. He says the project received 67% of applicable Envision credits, the most any project has received to date under the ISI rating. Platinum designation can be reached at 50%.

Envision proponents say the approach's flexibility and broad applicability limit the credits to any one project, but concede the number can be misunderstood by stakeholders. The department has used Envision to develop more than 60 projects, from water resources to transportation to waste management and is the first public agency to credential 100 staffers, says Sim.

The King County, Wash., wastewater treatment unit is piloting Envision on three major capital projects—a pump station and forcemain upgrade, new combined sewer overflow treatment plant and an interceptor upgrade, says Kathy Loland, project planning and delivery section manager.

She says use of the approach "has woven sustainability into the fabric of the projects themselves," with impacts on agency decision-making in areas such as construction waste recycling, energy and water conservation, stormwater management and community impact. Loland says Envision's scoring of "social justice impacts" related to facility siting needs improvement.

However, the InterAmerican Development Bank has used Envision to rate community impacts on projects it funds in 26 Latin American and Caribbean nations, says Ana Maria Vidaurre-Roche, its principal investment officer.

Projects are scored by the Harvard program, but none have yet been submitted for ISI verification. Even so, she says, use of Envision metrics "can make project teams think differently." Cited projects include a rail line in metropolitan Lima, Peru, that has improved greenhouse gas emissions and an airport in Galapagos, Ecuador, that provides 30% of its own energy needs. 

Envision seems to be a more comprehensive tool than LEED as if looks at climate, environmental, use of resources as well as stakeholder involvement and impact on community, together with governance and innovation
— Ana Maria Vidaurre-Roche, IDB

"Envision seems to be a more comprehensive tool than LEED as if looks at climate, environmental, use of resources as well as stakeholder involvement and impact on community, together with governance and innovation," says Vidaurre-Roche.

Going forward, ISI's Bertera recognizes that with Envision's creation as a tool "largely focused on design and planning," metrics for later construction and O&M phases need more attention.

Developing a construction "module" is among the task orders of Envision's new review board, which had its first meeting in May. "To take advantage of the shorter time scales more closely associated with the construction phase of a project, the tool needs to focus more on practical ways to build that have more of an impact upfront," says Skanska VP Paul Haining, one of the contractor's managers who will lead the effort.

Stantec's Janowitz also sees attention to allow Envision to be used in a "systems" approach that will allow planning for multiple  projects and across types of infrastructure.

Users also report more interest by power and industrial clients. ISI is outreaching to more contractors and private-sector owners. Bertera notes a recent Dow Chemical inquiry.

ISI also is refining Envision's metrics to measure return on investment that encompasses a project's financial, social and environmental impacts—referred to as the triple bottom line.

Impact Infrastructure's Williams is working with IT firm Autodesk to perfect AutoCASE, a cloud-based tool that links Envision to visualization software. "You plug in project parameters and the tool provides a probability-based return on investment dollar value," says William A. Wallace, a Colorado-based sustainability consultant and early developer of Envision.

Gathering clouds, green data

"Our AutoCASE tool is the only cloud-based automated product that plugs into BIM technology to run real-time cases mapped to Envision," says Williams, who pioneered the technology at HDR before retiring in 2012 to form his firm. "Our goal is to create a common analytical engine that runs sector specific metrics" and enables project comparisons "on the basis of total returns," he says.

Stantec used the ROI tool on work it did to develop green infratructure development guidance analysis for Pima County, Ariz., working with Impact Infrastructure as a pilot project. "It was quite helpful in analyzing and supporting analysis and conclusions regarding opportunities to utilize Sustainable ROI to develop and adopt practices and support these options with a robust business case," says Janowitz. By analyzing choices and full benefits over a project's entire life cycle, "we believe it can be of benefit for designers and engineers, and can be a way to communicate results and defend choices to political leaders or to the public," he adds.

Impact Infrastructure recently released an AutoCASE version that includes Canadian data and green infrastructure cost estimating features, Williams adds.

Madison sewerage official Mucha sees greater Envision acceptance "if we start to frame [it] as more of an accountability and quality assurance tool and less as a sustainability tool." As an ISI director, "that is something I will want to see happen," he adds. Burns & McDonnell's Sauer, an Envision review board member, says the tool offers "an edge in the marketplace."

Envision expertise can provide more firms with "the opportunity to move up the food chain," adds consultant Wallace. "Instead of responding to RFPs, they can help plan the infrastructure investment programs, figure out how to deliver projects under conditions of uncertainty and do so charging higher rates."

This article first appeared in the June 22, 2015 issue of Engineering News-Record, which this week becomes part of BNP Media, Troy, MI.

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