Envision™ is the first rating system for the creation of sustainable infrastructure. Envision™ assesses the sustainability of the infrastructure work through an analysis grid of 5 categories and 14 sub-categories (Quality of Life (Purpose, Wellbeing, Community), Leadership (Collaboration, Management, Planning), Resource Allocation (Materials, Energy, Water), Natural World (Siting, Land-Water, Biodiversity), and Climate and Risk (Emissions, Resilience) starting from an application that finds and quantifies the performance of the project and introduces points for improvement.
Envision™ can be applied to all types of infrastructure – roads, bridges, railways, airports, gas pipelines, dams, aqueducts, water treatment systems, stadiums, etc. Its assessment tools can be used for projects of different sizes, complexity and location.
We talked to Lorenzo Orsenigo and Stefano Susani, some of the first to bring Envision™ to Italy.
1. Envision™ started in the United States through the co-operation of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, a non-profit organisation based in Washington, and the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure of Harvard University. The system is not very widespread in Europe; just think that, in Italy, there are only about 30 people with certification for Envision™. Why do you think that Envision™ could have a follow-up and development in Italy? What is the added value it offers to both designers and engineers and the public administrations that commission infrastructure works?
Stefano Susani: One of the reasons why Envision™ has potential in Italy is its clarity and immediacy. In a complex legislative landscape like ours, in which the overall design is diluted in prescriptive decrees often expressed in ‘legalese’, the fact of being able to refer to an integrated protocol makes sustainability less subjective and more direct. In effect, Envision™ is also intended as a project guide for sustainability applied to infrastructure – it defines a platform of common language for the exchange between the various disciplines of engineering and architecture, unprecedented in the world of infrastructure. This common language enables designers to express fully and with the right engineering ambition acceptance of the principles and criteria of sustainability and resilience, and the contracting stations to have a complete, transparent assessment grid in the analysis of aspects that are very often considered subjective but are far from it. The fact that the protocol is free is a great methodological innovation compared to similar experiences, also in the Anglosphere. Administrations can adopt it directly and without administrative constraints and can discuss with a perspective of international sharing due to the database of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) of Harvard University.
Lorenzo Orsenigo: The Envision™ Protocol has had exponential growth in the United States in just a few years. More than 1,000 projects have tried to use Envision™ and have tried its innovative methodology. I think that there can also be a follow-up in the use of the Protocol in Italy because it allows objective evidence to be given to the community on the fact that the infrastructure has been designed and created taking due account of sustainability, which is not only environmental but also economic and social. There is more and more attention to how infrastructure is designed, and all the protests seen periodically, for example the No TAV (No HST) or No TAP (No Trans-Adriatic Pipeline) Committees, are a clear example; Envision™ could be the right response.
2. The new Procurement Code (Legislative Decree 50/2016) establishes that new infrastructure must be, among other things, shared (for example, through public engagement) and light (from different points of view – impact on the area, maintenance, possibility of transformation and re-use, etc.). How does Envision™ interpret public discussion and sustainability?
LO: Sharing the planning of the work with all the players involved (the so-called stakeholders) is an essential aspect in preventing forms of protest that hinder its fulfilment. Upstream of the design stage, some important questions should be asked including Does the infrastructure preserve and enhance local resources? Does it help communities in the area to develop, minimising the potential negative impacts and improving their comfort and convenience? Can technologies and materials be used to improve the health and safety of citizens? The project of infrastructure must, first and foremost, take account of the primary aims of the community, defining which and how many long-term benefits it can really originate, at the same time minimising the impact on the community. It must also evaluate, integrate and improve the needs, aims, values and identity of the community, i.e. it must be able to enhance those local features that make it unique and exclusive. The Quality of Life category of the Envision™ Protocol responds to these questions as it assesses the impact that the project could have on the whole existing social fabric and groups the subjects on the well-being of the community from the economic, physical, natural and social points of view within it. So it responds extensively, with a codified method, objectifying the choices shared with the stakeholders, as set out by the new Procurement Code in relation to public engagement. The other four areas of the Protocol guide the topics linked to environmental impact, the use of sustainable materials, the durability of the infrastructure and its resilience, i.e. the ability to adapt to future climate changers.
SS: I agree with what Lorenzo has said. I’ll add that Envision™ also places the topic of sharing in the wider context of sustainability and resilience. I think that this enables the Nimby view of many public discussions to be avoided. It would be difficult for the discussion of an impact assessment conducted with the guidance of Envision™ to push the infrastructure into the blind alley of pure opposition.
3 The use of Envision™ implies an increase in the design work, which is more complex from the organisational, managerial, decision-making etc. points of view. Does this type of work, particularly onerous at the beginning, generate significant advantages? If so, what?
SS: Although, on one hand, Envision™ gives a clear framework, on the other it demands the reinterpretation and analysis of all the processes in the creation of an infrastructure from the sustainability point of view. It’s not just a question of time but particularly of skills. Envision™ targets a team of designers and is difficult for a single specialist to use. This is also the key to the advantages it can offer. As Lorenzo said, the work is seen at 360° with the eyes of all its potential stakeholders – those who use it, who live with it and who suffer from it. With this approach, it’s easier to have a shared and effective so, at the end of the day, useful project. As I’ve personally taken part in assessments as Envision Sustainable Professional (Envision SP), I’ve really seen how the Protocol pushes towards a pragmatic approach that orients and stimulates to innovation; ingenious solutions are obtained much more easily and there is much greater inclination to look to similar international experiences. Lastly, the project team is much more satisfied by this structured discussion.
LO: It’s often Italian tradition to dedicate more attention to the construction of the work rather than the design and planning. It’s been shown that good design and planning that is complete, clear and thorough generates undoubted advantages at the construction stage, eliminating uncertainties, additional costs and delays in fulfilment. The use of Envision™ doesn’t imply an increase in the design and planning, rather, to my way of thinking, it facilitates it, structuring some processes that, at times, are at the mercy of events. Envision™ requires method and certainly skill, it’s absolutely not a short-cut for those who want to design and plan in an approximate and superficial way. The Leadership category valorises the work that the project team and customer do on sustainability. The investment made at the design stage generates benefits, not just during the construction work, pre-empting possible critical points but, above all, at the stage of use of the work, pre-empting concepts like useful life, resilience and monitoring, making the infrastructure more usable and valorising the local community.
4. Envision™ has a holistic view of the development of infrastructure. This means that qualified designers have to learn new skills to approach the projects in a transverse, inter- and multi-disciplinary way. What type of training would you suggest to a young engineer who is moving into the jobs market and intends to undertake a career in infrastructure design?
LO: The Envision™ protocol can be used not only freely in self-assessment (it’s available and can be downloaded free from the website) but it also allows the sustainability certification of the infrastructure to be obtained. To achieve this result, the planning path for the work has to be ‘guided’ to be able to obtain the scores that can be achieved in each credit. This has to be done by an expert in the Protocol, the so-called Envision Sustainable Professional, who obtains this qualification after appropriate training and passing an ad hoc exam. It’s a new professionalism which enriches those already acquired in courses of study or through working practice, and can lead to new job opportunities. So it’s advisable to acquire these skills as well which may enable an engineering company to offer services with greater added value to the market than its competitors.
SS: There are many engineering and design aspects to which Envision™ brings freshness and interest. For example, at long last, the cost-benefits assessments and analyses of the life cycle integrated into the protocol attain the status of indispensable design tools just like differential equations and material mechanics. The engineer or, rather, the designer, has to get used to handling these tools easily to guide the technical component of the infrastructure in a sustainable direction.