2016 a banner year for sustainable infrastructure; 2017 outlook even better

    Rendering of the Envision Platinum-verified Holland Energy Park in Holland, Mich.

    It is desirable to invest in resilient and sustainable infrastructure, particularly as we are confronted by the ongoing challenge of adapting to climate change. However, beyond responding to such a challenge, sustainable infrastructure projects contribute to our wellbeing in other ways: boosting growth and promoting healthy, vibrant economies; fostering a more socially inclusive future; strengthening security; improving environmental outcomes; and nurturing our overall quality of life.

    In both the United States and Canada, infrastructure is front and center on federal government agendas. President Trump made infrastructure spending a central tenet of his campaign(1), and already within his first 100 days in office, a $1 trillion infrastructure plan is being proposed that is expected to garner support from across the political spectrum.(2) In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau’s federal government unveiled “A Transformational Infrastructure Plan” that includes $25.3 billion in public transit spending, $21.9 billion in sustainable infrastructure such as low-carbon/renewable power projects, and another $21.9 billion in social infrastructure such as affordable housing over the next 11 years.(3) 

    The mission of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI; https://sustainableinfrastructure.org), is to develop and deliver Envision — a holistic framework used to evaluate the sustainable performance of all types and sizes of infrastructure projects. Since 2012, 26 infrastructure projects representing more than $13 billion of public assets have received Envision awards, with 14 achieving Envision verification in 2016 alone. 2016 was a banner year in terms of the number of projects that used the Envision framework as a planning and design tool to improve sustainable outcomes, and the outlook for 2017 is even more promising. ISI expects to see at least a 30 percent growth in the number of Envision-registered and verified projects during the course of this year.

    Image of the Envision Platinum-verified Nutrient Management Facility in Alexandria, Va.

    At the state/provincial and municipal levels of government, many departments and agencies are committing to sustainable infrastructure in various ways. For example, New York City’s Department of Design and Construction and the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering have invested in training employees (98 and 64, respectively) in the use of the Envision system. They recognize that training in the use of Envision helps practitioners plan, design, construct, and operate more resilient and sustainable infrastructure.(4)

    Others, such as Kansas City, Mo.; the Florida Department of Transportation; the City of Surrey in British Columbia; and Metrolinx, a transit agency in Ontario, are either assessing the sustainability of their projects using Envision’s self-assessment tools, committing to piloting Envision on one or more projects, or submitting one or more projects to ISI’s verification program for third-party confirmation of sustainable outcomes.

    Envision is also being included as a requirement in infrastructure Requests for Proposals (RFPs), as seen in RFPs issued by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the Port of Long Beach in California, King County Wastewater Treatment Division in Washington State, and the City of Revelstoke in British Columbia. As well, some municipalities such as the City of Los Angeles City Council are formally adopting the use of Envision to help them plan, design, and assess infrastructure projects. 

    2016 Envision awards

    Following is a closer look at five of the infrastructure projects that completed ISI’s third-party verification process and received Envision awards for their achievements in sustainable performance in 2016.

    The Tarrant Regional Water District’s Integrated Pipeline Project (http://sustainableinfrastructure.org/envision/project-awards/integrated-pipeline-project), a 150-mile-long water transmission system, is expected to generate millions of dollars in construction jobs per year during the construction phase. Once constructed, the pipeline will provide a sustainable water supply to meet the increasing water demands in Tarrant County, Texas; Dallas; and other surrounding communities.

    When fully operational, the Envision-verified Holland Energy Park (http://sustainableinfrastructure.org/envision/project-awards/holland-energy-park) — a base load power plant in the City of Holland, Mich. — will provide a reliable power source for the community that is socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable. The energy park will contribute to a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions and a near elimination of solid particulate pollutants, double the fuel efficiency of Holland’s present power generation, and create open public space connecting the Windmill Island Gardens to a several-mile-long trail network.

    The Kansas City Streetcar (http://sustainableinfrastructure.org/envision/project-awards/kansas-city-streetcar) was developed to support the city’s downtown revitalization plan and address four important goals directly connected to the needs of the local community, including enhancing linkages in downtown Kansas City and improving local circulation, supporting local and regional development goals, strengthening downtown districts and urban centers, and creating a sustainable environment.

    The Ohio River Bridges-East End Crossing (https://sustainableinfrastructure.org/envision/project-awards/ohio-river-bridges-east-end-crossing) resulted from a long-planned collaboration between the State of Indiana and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It is designed to address cross-river mobility challenges in the Louisville Metropolitan Area, improve safety and reduce traffic congestion, stimulate the local economy, and integrate with existing highways. It has also been designed to be resilient to significant potential climate change risks such as heat wave intensity and flooding, both of which were identified as risks in the region’s climate change assessment and adaptation plans.

    The Alexandria, Va.-based Nutrient Management Facility (https://sustainableinfrastructure.org/envision/project-awards/nutrient-management-facility) is a water resource recovery facility designed to meet some of the strictest wastewater treatment standards in the world. The project includes 18 million gallons in-tank capacity with associated pumps, chemical analysis equipment, and an extensive odor control system. It also includes a lit, regulation-sized athletic field located on top of the facility’s process tanks, which restored previously inaccessible land, creating a community amenity.

    At the time of this writing, three 2017 projects have already received an Envision award from ISI and several more are in progress. ISI expects to see significant growth in the number of projects using the Envision system to achieve more sustainable outcomes and in terms of where Envision is being utilized. While initially developed for use in the U.S. and Canada, Envision can be adapted to other locations as well; there is growing interest in the use of Envision in other locations globally, including Central and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.


    (1) Trump-Pence Campaign website, 2016, Infrastructure, accessed online Jan. 24, 2017 (no longer available) at https://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/an-americas-infrastructure-first-plan.

    (2) Steinhauer, Savage, and Cooper, 2017, Senate Democrats to Unveil $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan, accessed Jan. 24, 2017 at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/24/us/politics/donald-trump-administration.html.

    (3) Government of Canada, 2016, A Transformational Infrastructure Plan, accessed online Jan. 24, 2017 at http://www.budget.gc.ca/fes-eea/2016/docs/themes/infrastructure-en.html.

    (4) At the time of writing, more than 5,300 professionals in more than 20 countries have been trained in the use of Envision, earning an Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP) credential from ISI.

    Melissa Peneycad, ENV SP, is director, Sustainable Projects at the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (www.sustainableinfrastructure.org). She oversees and directs the verification program for the Envision rating system for sustainable infrastructure, developing relationships with infrastructure owners, designers, and public agencies across Canada and the United States and supporting research and further development of the Envision system.