Friday, July 25, 2014

Green Rating System for Public Works

From WPA to the U.S. Interstate Highway system, to ARRA and local bond initiatives, projects for public works and infrastructure keep cities and the economy humming along, but can they do even more.  Can economic, environmental and social synergies contribute even more to our communities?  The developers of Envision (TM) say "Yes!"

Envision is a "green" sustainability rating system for infrastructure projects.  Introduced in 2012, it's the result of a joint collaboration between the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI).

Public works and infrastructure projects can now receive the recognition for sustainable approaches that their architectural and development projects have received through LEED, Living Building Challenge, Green Globes and similar third-party rating systems.

Similar to LEED, the system has 60 sustainability criteria, called credits, divided into five sections: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk.  Tools include checklists and a planning guide.  The Envision process helps to identify community goals and outcome-based objectives, leverage collaboration, evaluate life cycle costs and achieve recognition for successful projects.  More detail about the Envision system can be found on the ISI website.

Projects can include stormwater management, aspects of master planning infrastructure, and roads.  Given the upcoming infrastructure development for communications and transportation, the systems' birth is timely.  According to a recent GreenBiz article by Anna Clark, "estimates for modernization of transportation, energy, and water infrastructure run as high as $3.6 trillion needed by 2020."

Rendering of South Los Angeles Wetlands Nature Park will be eventually realized           Image courtesy of City of Los Angeles Stormwater Program
An example of an a certified project is the South Los Angeles Wetland Park.  Transformed from a former bus and rail yard, this park received a  Platinum award for credit areas of Leadership, Quality of Life, Resource Allocation, and Natural World.  Specific achievements include creation of green space, stormwater management, and restoration of habitat supporting biodiversity.  Like most Envision-qualified projects, the park is an outgrowth of partnership between public works departments, private engineering and public funding.  The partners for this project include the
 City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works Bureau of Engineering and Psomas, a private consulting company who provided planning, design, and management services.  According the the Envision website, funding was provided through "Proposition O, a program supported by a series of general obligation bonds valued at $500 million, whose projects were conceived to protect public health by removing pollution from the City's watercourses, beaches, and the ocean to meet Federal Clean Water Act requirements."

Sean P. Vargas, Envision Verifier and  Psomas Principal, Director of Sustainability, described "The South L.A. Wetland Park [as] a good example of an integrated engineering solution that successfully built consensus, captured and improved local urban runoff, and created a new neighborhood-revitalizing amenity. It represents what is possible when an owner and an engineer collaborate and redefine the paradigm of multi-benefit projects."