I’ve been blogging about sustainable infrastructure for eight years ((See some of my early articles such as Massive NSW water recycling plant opens and A Brief Argument Against Stormwater Pipes)), have presented on sustainability, was involved in designing award winning sustainable subdivisions ((Murrays Beach, NSW North of Sydney, retained 70% of the trees on site in a residential development)), and was talking about it long before that. I’ve worked hard to differentiate myself from the traditional view of Civil Engineers to one of being a Sustainability Professional; problem-solving sustainable solutions to everyday infrastructure problems. Becoming accredited as an Envision™ Sustainability Professional (ENV SP) is a step I recently took to establishing my commitment to sustainable infrastructure.

Photo Credit: howzey via Compfight cc

Some History…

The British Institution of Civil Engineers received a Royal Charter in 1828, formally recognizing civil engineering as a profession. Its charter defined civil engineering as:

the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man, as the means of production and of traffic in states, both for external and internal trade, as applied in the construction of roads, bridges, aqueducts, canals, river navigation and docks for internal intercourse and exchange, and in the construction of ports, harbours, moles, breakwaters and lighthouses, and in the art of navigation by artificial power for the purposes of commerce, and in the construction and application of machinery, and in the drainage of cities and towns.

The profession has grown since those early days, with a new mandate building among forward thinking engineers, facing head-on the realities of resource constraints, climate change and community needs for today and into the future, providing ethical and sustainable solutions to tackle these global challenges and develop the infrastructure needs of society. These concepts are becoming more mainstream in the engineering community than ever before, but until recently in North America we’ve lacked a system for detailing sustainability metrics specifically for infrastructure projects, (including those described in the charter above).

ENV SP – The Professional Context

Open only to Professional Engineers and others with a four year degree, the ENV SP accreditation offers those engineers who see themselves as infrastructure sustainability professionals a means of detailing the sustainability of projects they are working on. While a similar concept to the LEED ratings used for buildings and neighbourhoods, the Envision™ rating system is specifically designed to rate municipal scale infrastructure projects.

Wrapping a broad range of sustainable perspectives together, from community social impacts, energy use, climate resilience, and resources and materials, the rating system can be used to guide an infrastructure project through the thought process of considering the options, opportunities, and decisions that can impact the sustainability of a project. Working from these considerations, the project team can select areas to target for further sustainable metrics. For example, a project team may gain points for consideration of the lighting options available, but to gain more points in the assessment, a team may decide to implement options that restore the dark sky in the vicinity of the project.

The rating system doesn’t provide the answers, or cookie cutter solutions, but rewards solutions that innovate toward the sustainable and away from the status quo design paradigm that North America is stuck in. As a professional, the Envision™ rating system should assist and measure the decision making processes for infrastructure projects and help answer the questions, “are we doing the right project?” and “are we doing the project right?”

Professional buy-in is an important next step. For the the Envision™ tool to become mainstream in Canada, engineering consulting companies and associations such as Engineers Canada and APEGBC need to embrace the concept behind it, and promote the tools for general use. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had many interesting discussions with industry leaders, including representatives from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities last week. I am also getting a lot of queries about whether it is too onerous to use, or whether it is just a fad. My answer typically is that I have been waiting for almost a decade for a robust tool to assess the sustainability of infrastructure projects and reward those projects that shine, the Envision™ rating system is the fist tool that meets this challenge head on.

Ask any questions in the comments below…

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.