New Envision sustainability rating system focuses on water, power, transportation and industrial projects.
Since 2000, owners desiring "green" buildings have had the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system to guide their efforts. But those responsible for water reclamation plants, power substations, bridges and industrial facilities have been largely on their own — until now.
A new program designed for infrastructure is making it easier for municipalities and utilities to evaluate and publicly demonstrate project sustainability. Known as Envision™, the tool includes a process for evaluating projects using standardized criteria.
"The demand for more sustainable infrastructure is growing. But professionals who attempted to apply LEED principles to these projects found it was often inadequate," says Doug Dietrich of the Burns & McDonnell Strategic Initiatives Group. "Envision fills that gap."
The program was introduced in 2012 by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), a nonprofit founded by the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Public Works Association and American Council of Engineering Companies.
Burns & McDonnell is a charter member of ISI and only the second firm worldwide to have 150 professionals credentialed to guide clients in the use of Envision. "Now that the word is out, that number is continuing to grow. We now have credentialed Envision professionals nationwide representing all disciplines: civil, structural, mechanical and electrical engineering; the environmental sciences; architecture; and construction management," Dietrich says.
What's in It for You?
The Envision program bears many similarities to LEED, including its professional accreditation process and points-based awards — bronze to platinum — for projects that seek certification. It considers not only a project's environmental impact, but also its life cycle economic and community quality of life contributions.
All these things can be of value to organizations facing opposition to their projects.
"Sustainable design has not historically been associated with electrical utilities, whose substations and transmission lines tend to have large environmental footprints," says Will Kirby, a civil engineer in the Burns & McDonnell Transmission & Distribution Group. "But in reality, many already include sustainable solutions in their projects.
"Envision will help them tweak their designs, if needed, and allow them to be recognized for their sustainable design features."
Envision also addresses elements of the planning and site selection process related to community stakeholder outreach, helping organizations make decisions that stand the test of time.
"The process might identify opportunities to improve a habitat that a transmission line passes through," Kirby says. Cities under a consent decree to remove combined sewer overflows may use the same process to find affordable, eco-friendly ways to keep stormwater out of the sewer system.
With the first Envision-guided projects winding their way through the certification process, Dietrich believes now is a good time for municipalities and public agencies to pilot the rating tool.
"As we saw with LEED, the early projects that are certified benefit from a considerable amount of press," he said.
Ultimately, it's not the plaques or publicity that matter. "The real value of Envision — and one reason more professionals are adopting it — is that it enables organizations to be more transparent to their shareholders, voters and ratepayers," Dietrich says. "When people see and become part of the process, they better understand how and why decisions are made. And the support for sustainability grows."
For more information, contact Doug Dietrich, 816-627-6040.