Envision™ Infrastructure Rating System

The concept that products and services, and the companies that deliver them, can be rated on the basis of sustainable performance isn’t new to the built environment. Recognizing that buildings are major consumers of water and energy, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) created LEED, which is designed to rate and reward building owners and designers based on achievements in sustainable design and performance of buildings.

To be truly effective in fostering sustainability however, Bill Bertera, Executive Director of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), believes that systems must continually prompt new inquiries. He notes: For highways, the question should be, “What are the transportation choices for improving access and mobility in the community?” For water treatment plants, “What can be done to reduce, reuse and restore the community’s water supply?” For sewer systems and stormwater management, “What can we do to improve the effectiveness of natural systems?”

The EnvisionRating System helps answer these questions. Envision evaluates, grades and gives recognition to infrastructure projects that use transformational, collaborative approaches to assess the sustainability indicators over the course of a project’s life cycle.

Simply explained, Envision is a sustainability rating system for the nation’s infrastructure. It is designed to evaluate, grade and give recognition to infrastructure projects that make progress and contributions to a more sustainable future through a holistic approach.

“Envision applies to almost any kind of civil infrastructure OTHER than buildings,” notes Bertera.

Infrastructure recognized

Envision is a joint collaboration between the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) and the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). Its purpose is to help policy makers evaluate the sustainability of infrastructure, set realistic national priorities and conduct a national discourse on infrastructure investment.

This system rates all types and sizes of civil infrastructure projects, and does so in terms of environmental, economic and community benefits.

“The Triple Bottom Line (economic/social/environmental) shines through in this comprehensive and workable rating system that will help project owners, designers and constructors make better management and investment decisions,” Bertera adds. “Envision will help conserve and restore natural resources and ecological systems as well as strengthen the capacity and social fabric of our communities.”

Envision is designed to cover all civil infrastructure including roads, bridges, pipelines, railways, airports, dams, levees, solid waste landfills, water supplies, wastewater treatment plants, power transmission lines, telecommunications towers, and the public spaces in cities, towns and local communities. It is not intended to supplant existing, sector-specific infrastructure rating systems such as those that cover buildings, roads, airports and hydropower facilities.

Envision provides a complex framework of assessment, covering all major civil infrastructure project types, scales, contexts and project phases. Infrastructure owners, engineers, contractors and regulators can address all major infrastructure project stages: planning and design, construction, operations and maintenance, and decommissioning.

“What makes this system stand out, in addition to the fact that it’s for infrastructure, is that it provides tools that can be applied to an infrastructure project at any point during its life cycle,” says Bertera. “Many rating systems emphasize sustainability during the planning and development phases, but Envision includes the construction process as well as the operation and maintenance phases of a new, or existing, project.”

Awarding recognition through Envision

Envision directly ties rating system points to measurable benefits.

“This program, like others, does have an element associated with public recognition,” explains Bertera. The Envision Stage 2 Rating Tool is made up of 60 credits divided into five sections: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk.

“If a developer, designer, planner, civil infrastructure owner, municipality, etc. wishes to apply for public third-party recognition for their project, there is an application process in which they can submit the project for review and verification,” says Bertera.

“However, our goal is not simply to pass out awards for projects that are sustainable, but rather to create incentives for infrastructure owners to continuously improve their infrastructure and make it more sustainable as time evolves.”

Envision is currently available for use in the public domain, for free, and it continues to evolve.

“We expect this tool to change considerably as society’s concept of what constitutes sustainability changes,” concludes Bertera. “Envision is meant to be a fluid system.”