Raising the bar for sustainability


    Following five years of application on projects collectively worth more than $34 billion, the Envision rating system for sustainable infrastructure has helped the design and engineering community progress in its understanding of sustainability and resiliency. Consequently, the next version — Envision v3 — incorporates the lessons learned and adds some new credits. In the following interview, Melissa Peneycad, ENV SP, LEED GA, director, sustainable projects, at the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), explains the Envision framework and changes in the latest version.

    Peneycad oversees and directs the verification program for the Envision rating system for sustainable infrastructure. Her responsibilities also include developing relationships with infrastructure owners, designers, and public agencies across Canada and the United States, and contributing to further development of the Envision system. Her professional experience includes transformative work in sustainable building and infrastructure planning, design, and management; green buildings; climate change mitigation; sustainability planning and reporting; and the development and implementation of standards and sustainability rating systems.

    Prior to joining ISI, Peneycad was a sustainable development consultant for Stantec, where she helped establish the firm’s integrated sustainable infrastructure practice, played a leading role in Canada’s first Envision-verified projects, and applied the system as a planning and design tool on several others, including a mixed-use community development initiative. Peneycad has a Bachelor of Commerce (Honors) from Queen’s University and a Master in Environmental Studies Degree and Graduate Diploma in Business and Sustainability, both from York University.

    Civil + Structural Engineer (C+S): Tell me about the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure and your role in the organization.

    Peneycad: The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) is a non-profit organization serving a unique community of organizations and individuals involved in the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of infrastructure. ISI was founded by the American Public Works Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Council of Engineering Companies for a specific purpose: to develop and maintain a sustainability framework for civil infrastructure. This framework, known as Envision, was launched in April 2012.

    ISI’s headquarters are in Washington, D.C., but I am based in Ontario, Canada. I am responsible for the Envision sustainable infrastructure verification program. I also support research and development activities, and outreach and business development efforts.

    My role is fascinating in the sense that every infrastructure project that pursues Envision verification must cross my desk. I get a firsthand look at how projects are planned, designed, and delivered in a more sustainable fashion, and I get to see the innovative approaches to sustainability that are being implemented across all infrastructure sectors, including water, transportation, energy, waste, industrial, and even food production.

    The City of Phoenix 27th Avenue Compost Facility earned an Envision Silver award. Photo: courtesy HDR
    Kunia Country Farms, a commercial aquaponics farm in Hawaii,
    earned Envision Gold certification.

    C+S: Your role sounds intriguing. Tell me more about Envision and some of the most interesting projects you’ve looked at.

    Peneycad: The Envision framework includes credits. Each credit details a specific sustainability attribute relevant to infrastructure such as creating jobs, involving stakeholders in project decision making, using recycled and regional materials, and addressing issues associated with climate change. There are up to five levels of achievement within each credit, ranging from “improved” performance just above conventional, to “restorative,” which represents the restoration of resources, or ecological, economic, and social systems. Each level of achievement has a point value associated with it — the higher the level of achievement, the more points it’s worth. Projects that earn at least 20 percent of applicable points in the Envision system are considered sustainable.

    Every project is unique and interesting in its own right. One of the first projects I reviewed when I started in this role was a commercial aquaponics farm in Hawaii. It was the first time a food production facility used Envision so it was especially interesting to see how the Envision credits were applied in this context. That, by the way, is one of the things I love about Envision: The Envision framework is so flexible and adaptable that it can be applied to all types and sizes of civil infrastructure.

    All the other projects that have completed verification can be found on ISI’s website (www.sustainableinfrastructure.org).   

    C+S: Who uses Envision and how?

    Peneycad: Envision is primarily used by planners, designers, engineers, infrastructure owners, and other sustainability professionals to self-assess infrastructure projects in relation to their economic, environmental, and social contributions.

    We also offer an optional project verification program. To-date, more than $34 billion worth of infrastructure has either completed or is going through ISI’s verification process, a process through which Envision self-assessments are calibrated by independent third-party verifiers in the civil infrastructure industry who review and validate the sustainability attributes of infrastructure projects.

    C+S: How is Envision raising the bar for sustainability?

    Peneycad: After five years of applying Envision on billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure, the industry has progressed significantly, and ISI has captured lessons learned. These lessons have been incorporated into the next version of Envision — known as Envision v3. For example, the industry understanding of resilience has grown tremendously, especially in the wake of hurricanes Katrina, Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Envision v3 has, therefore, incorporated a more advanced appreciation and understanding of resilience and is raising the bar even further in this area.

    ISI also identified the need to place greater emphasis on evaluating the economics of infrastructure projects, advancing social equity and justice, and planning for sustainable communities. New credits addressing these issues have been added to the Envision v3 framework.

    In addition, several construction-related sustainability aspects have been specifically included in the upgraded framework, including construction-phase energy and water consumption, construction-phase waste diversion, and construction safety. ISI has learned through experience just how significantly contractors can influence sustainable project outcomes; therefore, the inclusion of these additional credits that recognize the construction phase of projects is a natural extension to the framework.

    C+S: Are there any other changes to Envision v3 that readers would be interested in learning about?

    Peneycad: Many Envision-verified projects to date have achieved verification at 95 percent design completion; however, under Envision v3, projects may earn final Envision verification and award once a project reaches at least 95 percent construction completion. We feel it is important to have this post-construction follow-up to ensure that commitments made in the planning and design stages were carried through during construction.

    Additionally, ISI will roll out an upgraded training and professional credential program for professionals in the civil infrastructure industry. Credentialed professionals, known as Envision Sustainability Professionals, or ENV SPs, will be required to maintain their credential through an all-inclusive subscription with ISI that includes access to continuing education courses. We anticipate rolling out this new training and credential program starting in the spring of 2018.

    C+S: Tell me about the Envision v3 development process.

    Peneycad: I have been involved in the development of several sustainability standards, frameworks, and rating systems over the course of my career. The process through which Envision has been upgraded has been tremendous, and speaks volumes of the industry’s commitment to advancing sustainability.

    More than two years ago, 13 committees made up of 65 Envision users with specific technical expertise began reviewing and modifying the Envision framework. These committees — collectively known as the Envision Technical Committee — operated under the guidance and oversight of ISI and a 15-person board known as the Envision Review Board (ERB). Collectively, the Envision Technical Committee, ISI, and the ERB developed Envision v3. In September of this year, the draft Envision v3 credits were released for public review and comment, a crucial step to ensuring Envision v3 is as robust, credible, and as industry-relevant as possible.

    C+S: When can the civil infrastructure industry begin using Envision v3?

    Peneycad: Envision v3 will roll out in early 2018. ISI plans to first release the Envision v3 Guidance Manual. The Guidance Manual is the foundational component of the framework. It includes the Envision credits, covers the use of the framework, and explains the scoring methodology. As soon as the new Guidance Manual is released, the industry will be able to begin using Envision v3 as a planning and design tool, and will be able to start self-assessing the sustainability of infrastructure projects under Envision v3.

    Projects will be able to pursue third-party verification under Envision v3 beginning in the spring of 2018. Projects that have already registered to pursue Envision verification but have not yet started the process will be able to switch over to Envision v3 without penalty.

    C+S: It sounds like you and your colleagues are busy getting ready for the launch of Envision v3. Do you have any final thoughts to share?

    Peneycad: We are working hard to balance keeping pace with the tremendous progress the industry is making in terms of designing and delivering more sustainable infrastructure, while continuing to raise the bar for sustainability. Envision sheds light on issues that may sometimes get overlooked, like the importance of planning for the long-term monitoring and maintenance of infrastructure, and considering what to do with a project at the end of its useful life.

    We are also trying to drive important issues such as reducing the energy intensity of materials used on projects, improving infrastructure integration, and reducing the impact infrastructure has on air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

    I believe we will continue to see growth in the use of Envision on a project-by-project basis, but we will also start to see a trend toward a portfolio approach, where departments and agencies begin assessing their entire portfolios of stormwater projects, for example. I am hopeful that in time we will be able to develop national benchmarks for sustainable infrastructure, much like we have for buildings.