More and more infrastructure owners are taking a look (or a second look) at sustainable design, construction and operation. Unlike buildings, much of infrastructure functions with unoccupied spaces. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC’s) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) which is oriented around occupied buildings, is challenging on infrastructure projects. Infrastructure needs include durability, ease of maintenance and conserving resources.
When helping an infrastructure owner on the sustainable path, it is important to listen what the client is looking for. An owner may be interested in basic needs such as reducing energy consumption or meeting a minimum criterion to be “certifiable,” or assistance with going through with a third-party verification for a sustainable achievement. Across the industry, there is a wide range of sustainable goals. The approach is helping an owner determine reasonable sustainable goals that suits their needs and ambitions. In addition, the work includes providing a strategy or defining pathway to achieve the sustainable goals. This involves working integrally with the design, construction, and/or maintenance teams. The pathway to achieving the goals varies from using an existing sustainable rating system to customizing a program for the owner’s facilities or on a single project.
Infrastructure clients and owners are writing sustainability and resilience requirements into Request for Proposals (RFPs) and procurement documents. One option is using LEED (for buildings) as starting point. This can bring mixed results. LEED is applicable to occupied spaces, which is a challenge for unoccupied facilities such as bus maintenance buildings and electric substations.
The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s (ISI’s) Envision Program offers another sustainable solution for infrastructure projects. Envision has a large umbrella of credit options for both large and small projects. The ISI Envision framework organizes these credits into five categories: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate & Resilience.
However, without a clear understanding of the Envision platform, Envision may be lumped it into “one of those LEED systems.” As clear as the sustainable solution may be for the design team, this may not be the case for the owner’s team. It is important to see through the client’s eyes and listen to the needs of the client’s operations and maintenance staff. If the owner’s team has an in-house sustainability champion, this person can answer questions and add sustainable practices and points of view to discussions. The sustainability champion is also an important asset to building sustainable practices into the owner’s policies (e.g. adding sustainability qualifications to a request for proposals).
The first step to advancing sustainability on infrastructure projects is to lay out the sustainable qualities into project phases. For example, during design, the materials will be determined, such as cast-in-place reinforced concrete for a pump station. The concrete is a local/regional material. Using a material readily available near the project site will result in fewer emissions from truck and less fuel used (though it’s worth noting that the global warming potential of cement is worth considering). During the construction phase, the distance the concrete mix travel will be noted. Using local/regional materials also supports the local economy. Using local/regional materials is identified as a quality on the project in support of sustainability.
The discussion with the client will determine the list the sustainable qualities important to the client: energy, potable water, waste, material, stormwater, protecting wetlands, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. At a high level, review sustainable qualities action items.
Energy is listed in all three phases of our example, which is outlined in Table 1 for the different project teams.
Table 1: Sustainability Categories for Project Phases
Infrastructure projects may have different funding sources for design verses operation. With a long life, the operational cost of the facility has a significant financial impact on the local community. A more energy efficient piece of equipment may have a higher capital cost but also may result in a lower operating cost. Energy considerations during construction involve the means and methods used by the contractor. A contractor can optimize a truck route to reduce fuel use and emissions. It might possible for all the construction during daylight hours and save on lighting.
The next step is to align the sustainable qualities with the Envision credits. The four Envision credits pertaining to energy are shown in Figure 1. In our example, the client chooses to RA2.1 Reduce Operational Energy Consumption and RA2.2 Reduce Construction Energy Consumption.
Along with this step, a required achievement level for the credit can be established. What level of energy reduction does the owner desire for the operation, 10%, 30%, 50%? The anticipated cost saving should be included for the owners’ information.
Once the known sustainable qualities have been identified, it is good to review the rest of the Envision credits with the owner for other possible easy to reach credits. Are there additional credits that the project will earn “automatically” that is not on the owner’s list? For example, is there a permitting requirement for stakeholder involvement? Is the contractor required to have a safety plan that includes education and training? These credits may be added without added cost to the project. A second part of this step is to note credits with a small extra cost.
The approach is helping an owner determine reasonable sustainable goals, defining strategies to achieve their sustainable goals and working integrally with the design/construction/maintenance teams. All projects including infrastructure projects can be sustainable. Today, sustainability work does not stop at the building footprint. All project types from parking structures to electric substations to transportation facilities can achieve sustainability goals.
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