By Jim Heeren and Olivia Dolan
For nearly ten years we have been working with the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) to incorporate sustainability into infrastructure projects. Envision is a verification process created by ISI to evaluate the sustainability of a project. Dewberry is a charter member of the organization, and we have been using the framework to shape the way we approach the design and implementation of projects.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), and the American Public Works Association (APWA) collaborated to form ISI and advocate for a rating system that provides a framework, known as Envision, for assessing sustainability, resiliency, and equity in civil infrastructure. Certified Envision Sustainability Professionals rate—or “verify” in Envision terminology—projects against 64 criteria in five different categories: quality of life, leadership, resource allocation, natural world, and climate and resilience. Projects that complete the verification process may earn an Envision award for Verified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum based on the number of points achieved.
As more projects seek Envision verification, we are starting to see a change in the way projects are designed and the types of projects that seek verification. The term “infrastructure” is often equated with highways, railways, bridges, water/wastewater, and energy. With Envision, we can apply the sustainability framework to other types of projects, like a university campus. If a university plans to upgrade the infrastructure that connects multiple buildings, it might consider Envision as a standard on which to base sustainable infrastructure for the future.
Using this process allows us to look at a project holistically. Envision’s framework helps project teams identify sustainable, resilient, and equitable approaches from the planning stage through design, construction, operation and maintenance, and even end-of-life phases. Guided by the Envision criteria, we are initiating and upgrading projects in a way that creates positive and lasting effects on our communities.
Implementing the Process
Communication is key throughout the verification process. When applying for Envision verification, we work closely with our clients and ISI. We strive to understand what asset owners hope to accomplish with verification and provide effective communication of what is required for them to achieve their goals. It is important to include the latest project information and documentation during the verification process. It is equally as important to have a clear understanding of what is expected by the ISI reviewer and to keep those expectations at the forefront of our minds while submitting for verification.
Learning where and when to apply the Envision process can be a challenge. Many infrastructure projects take decades to complete from start to finish. Owners are sometimes unsure if they would like to pursue the verification at the beginning of a project, or they don’t know if they can apply Envision on projects that are well underway. Ideally, planners and designers understand the verification framework at a project’s onset, in order to plan with the Envision criteria in mind. This not only makes the verification process smoother, as the requirements are more likely to be met and necessary documentation more likely to have been created, but it also provides further insight into ways that a project may be more sustainable. However, the Envision verification process is beneficial whether it is applied during the planning or design phases or after construction has started. Starting verification after construction has begun requires coordination to recover past documentation to support how the project may have met certain credit requirements, but it is certainly possible, and still provides the project owner the opportunity to showcase their values and promote sustainability.
As a whole, we are seeing more clients and design professionals embrace the values and thought process of Envision to make infrastructure projects more sustainable. It is truly a “win-win,” as our project owners are given recognition for their hard work and commitments while their infrastructure projects support a more sustainable future.
James Heeren, PE, ENV SP is a senior environmental engineer at Dewberry. He has more than three decades of experience in environmental impact analyses, engineering design, permitting, site investigation and remediation, Environmental Management Systems (EMS), and sustainability. Jim is a licensed professional engineer and Envision Sustainability Professional; he is President of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) North Jersey Branch. He holds a master’s degree in environmental engineering and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, both from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Olivia Dolan, ENV SP is an environmental scientist with Dewberry. Her background includes providing sustainability and climate resilience consulting, as well as supporting environmental regulatory compliance under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ and state regulations. She is an Envision Sustainability Professional and holds a bachelor’s degree in natural resource conservation from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.