Sustainability and Our Horizontal Infrastructure

A new rating system aims to build sustainability considerations into the entire infrastructure process, from planning to implementation.
by | May 20, 2013

Green building-rating systems have been around for well over a decade. The best known in the United States is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the certification system administered by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED is for the "horizontal infrastructure" world of buildings. But what about "horizontal infrastructure" -- our roads, bridges, railways, landfills, water and wastewater-treatment plants, power-transmission lines, and public spaces in our cities and towns?

At a recent sustainability conference, I learned about an intriguing effort to bring to infrastructure what LEED brings to buildings. It's called the Envision Rating System, and it's a joint project of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) and Harvard University's Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure.

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Envision is just getting out of the starting blocks. Essentially, it's a guide for sustainability decision-making by government. "We now have a way to help government prioritize needs and allocate resources for the physical infrastructure upon which everything else depends," explains William Bertera, ISI's executive director. Ann Radil, an Envision user who is senior scientist for Parametrix, a Portland, Ore., environmental-engineering consulting firm, says that "for infrastructure Envision has done the heavy lifting on sustainability. These tools help you ask the right questions."

As governments make decisions about scarce resources, too often the decision-making process is limited to locally available knowledge or experience and misses the possibilities presented by best practices from other communities. Envision is based on a list of best practices that can be considered as a project is designed and implemented.

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Bob Graves  |  Associate Director of the Governing Institute

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