In our second installment from the NEWEA Sustainability Committee, we wanted to highlight the new version of Envision, version 3, that was released earlier this summer, and offer some thoughts on why utilities here in New England should consider using the framework. Envision, the infrastructure industry’s equivalent of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for green buildings, first came on the scene back in 2012. At that time, there was a recognized need for a comprehensive methodology to infuse sustainable thinking and practices into the planning, design and implementation our nation’s infrastructure. Envision, developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) in partnership with the Zofnass Program at the Havard Graduate School of Design, filled that gap and then some, but only now, several years later, is the framework beginning to pick up steam and use within the industry.
What is Envision and its intended use?
Whether you’ve never heard of Envision, were recently made aware of it or know the tool inside and out, it is safe to assume that you will hear more about it in the future. Therefore, it is worth sharing a little background into what the framework does and its intended use. Simply put, Envision is a rating, or certification, framework and tool that can be used to evaluate the relative sustainability of projects against established baselines. Envision encourages project teams to be multi-disciplinary in nature gaining perspective of owners, engineers, designers, planners, operators and contractors. Teams can use the rating system as a framework to guide their decision-making process during project planning, at a high level, and as a tool during design and implementation, to make more detailed sustainable selections.
Envision v3 is made up of 64 total credits, separated into 5 categories, each with an associated point value. The credits cover a variety of areas typically encountered on infrastructure work, from the role and significance of the project within sustainable community development (Quality of Life), to the effective use of land and resources (Resource Allocation and Natural World) while considering the impacts of changing climatic conditions (Climate and Resilience). The framework also steps outside of the bounds of the project and asks teams and organizations to examine the processes with which they are making decisions and communicating with their stakeholders (Leadership). Within each credit, the framework provides teams with guidance on ways to increase their sustainable thinking by moving from an Improved status all the way to Restorative, offering increasing points as greater levels of ‘sustainability’ are achieved. For Envision v3, several of the credits were updated to reflect lessons learned, include consideration of construction impacts and place a greater emphasis on resiliency and mitigation to enhance the value and effectiveness of the framework within the industry.
Who is using it within our industry?
As of August 2018, there are 7,500 registered Envision Sustainability Professionals – those individuals that are qualified to facilitate use of the rating system on projects. To date, 49 projects have been verified in North America, 22 are in process and another 59 are registered within the ISI system. Of those projects, roughly 40% are water and wastewater projects while another 15% are related to stormwater and development. Cities and counties across the US are beginning to require Envision evaluations or assessments be a routine part of project planning and implementation. Key New England projects, the Boston Landing Station and the Greenough Greenway Project in Watertown, were awarded Envision Silver and Bronze respectively within the past two years. More information on these projects and more can be found at sustainableinfrastructure.org.
To say the least, use of this important framework is picking up momentum.
Why should your utility consider using Envision?
Envision is more than just a set of requirements to check off the list which can make use of the tool seems more than a bit daunting given all of the challenges that utilities are currently facing. Here’s why we think, despite this, utilities in New England should consider using Envision, or similar sustainable frameworks, in their decision making; Envision
- Helps utilities meet their priorities and goals in a sustainable manner
- Includes evaluation of the environmental and social costs and benefits in addition to the economic
- Promotes fiscal sustainability by focusing on the highest and best use of limited resources
While it is true using the tool effectively requires teams to shift their mindset and change can be difficult, the benefits often lead to solutions that provide multiple benefits for the economy, society and environment simultaneously. When garnering approval for financial viability of our wastewater infrastructure is challenging at best, seeking multi-benefit solutions can often provide broader community support for the changes that are required to keep systems operating sustainably. In this time when we are rehabilitating and building infrastructure to serve our communities 50 to 100 years into our future, the cost of using a framework, such as Envision, that leads to more sustainable solutions is much less than the overall cost incurred by unintended consequences for future generations.