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Planning Sustainable Infrastructure Projects with ISI Envision

Sustainability – have you ever heard the term and wondered, exactly what does that mean?  

The answer, it seems, depends on who you ask.  Most definitions describe sustainability in terms of the “triple bottom line” of achieving the proper balance between social, environmental and economic needs, and the ability of our society to meet these needs without impeding the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  

Black & Veatch has modified this standard definition of sustainability into meeting the needs of the present generation while improving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  Furthermore, Black & Veatch has embraced an infrastructure project rating system called Envision that uses a proactive and quantifiable system to score the environmental, social and economic aspects of projects to achieve increasing levels of sustainability.  

The Envision Criteria and Rating System

The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) Envision program was created through a partnership between ISI and the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure.  ISI is a nonprofit organization comprising the American Council of Engineering Companies, the American Public Works Association, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. Black & Veatch is a charter member.

Envision was born from a desire to promote a dramatic and necessary improvement in sustainable infrastructure projects and can be used during planning, design, construction, or at all stages of a project.  Envision was intended to provide infrastructure industry-wide metrics for sustainability and to help foster more cost-effective, energy efficient, and adaptable long-term infrastructure investments.  

The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) Envision program was created through a partnership between ISI and the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure. ISI is a nonprofit organization comprising the

The Envision method of planning and rating sustainable infrastructure projects is similar to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program for buildings/architecture in that it has multiple levels of sustainability that can be achieved (bronze, silver, gold, platinum) using various attributes of a project. A different system was needed for infrastructure projects, however, because the LEED criteria for buildings did not necessarily fit other kinds of projects.  

The 60 sustainability criteria (or credits) included for rating as part of the Envision system fall under five main categories, as follows:

  • Quality of Life (purpose, well-being, community)
  • Leadership (collaboration, management, planning)
  • Resource Allocation (materials, energy, water)
  • Natural World (site selection, land and water, biodiversity)
  • Climate and Risk (emissions, resilience)

Levels of achievement that can be targeted within the Envision system include the following:

  • Improved (performance better than a conventional project)
  • Enhanced (sustainable performance that adheres to Envision principles)
  • Superior (noteworthy sustainable performance)
  • Conserving (performance that has essentially no impact)
  • Restorative (performance beyond no impact to a level that restores natural or social systems)

The credits or points earned toward each of these achievement levels can also be supplemented by innovation credits given for true innovation on an Envision project, especially when it can also be applied to other projects or scaled up in the future, or for going far above the requirements of the achievement level being targeted.

The key question that Envision seeks to have communities, agencies, and other parties ask is not just whether they are doing a project right, but if they are actually doing the right project.  Envision focuses on the triple bottom line concept, recognizing that holistic thinking about all aspects of infrastructure projects and pulling together everyone involved in these projects is a goal of the program so that the result will be the most sustainable and best project possible.  The Envision rating system incorporates not just environmental sustainability, but also includes community and financial considerations, which aligns with Black & Veatch’s inclusion of all three of these areas in our definition and application of the term “sustainability” to our work and projects.

Applicability and Further Development of Envision

Envision was designed to apply to infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada, including roads, bridges, pipelines, and similar facilities.  The Envision system can also be adapted for projects in other locations and its application customized as desired for each project.

ISI is continuing to develop the Envision program, and further levels of training and addition of a specific economic/life cycle cost component are planned for the future as the system is refined.  The founders of the Envision rating system emphasize that awards and recognition are not the goals of this program.  The desired goal of Envision is to change the way projects are designed and move toward a more holistic, inclusive way of thinking about, planning, designing, and implementing infrastructure projects that increases sustainability and involves all parties.

Early adopters of Envision include Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, as well as the California State Department of Water Resources and the Kansas City Water Services Department.  As more projects are planned and constructed using Envision, Black & Veatch expects that its long-term environmental and cost benefits will be increasingly demonstrated.

Envision at Black & Veatch

Upon joining ISI in 2014, Black & Veatch set a goal of certifying 110 professionals as ISI Envision Sustainability Professionals (ENV SP).  Certification as an Envision ENV SP gives these professionals a background in the philosophy and methods of the Envision program and allows them to either use Envision as a guide and/or document the implementation of Envision principles into infrastructure projects.  The ENV SP is typically the person on the design team for each Envision project who documents the specific ways that the project meets the Envision criteria.  Projects that use the Envision process may then be nominated by the certified ENV SP to be recognized by ISI with an Envision award, which will generate more awareness of the company, the project, and ways to make infrastructure more sustainable.

With ENV SP certified professionals across multiple areas of the company, Black & Veatch will be able to leverage the expertise of certified engineers, environmental specialists, architects and others as needed to contribute to projects using Envision.  Some of our first Envision projects involve using the Envision system as a framework for optimizing water and sewer sustainability for a Florida county.

As awareness of the benefits and importance of planning for sustainable infrastructure projects increases, we “envision” sustainability to be more widely recognized and understood.


Subject Matter Expert
Dusty Miller:

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