Driving Envision Forward in Texas

There's been a lot of buzz building about the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) and the Envision rating system. Several projects across the country have been Envision certified now, and there are many more making their way into the verification system. Larger cities like Los Angeles and Chicago are implementing Envision on projects, and here locally, the City of Dallas included Envision expertise as one of the criteria in its Request for Qualifications for Public Works consultants last fall. On the private side, Envision is beginning to make its way into engineering firms' employee development, strategic initiatives and project design discussions. Envision is gradually changing the engineering industry, much like LEED slowly made its way into mainstream architecture design in the 90s.

I have personally been committed to ISI and the Envision push dating back to 2009 when ISI was first being formed, Envision was being developed, and then efforts were merged with those of the Zofnass program at Harvard to create one system. ISI and Envision have come a long way since those initial discussions, with over 75 charter members and hundreds of certified professionals. I'm proud to say we were one of the first firms in Texas to sign on as Charter members of ISI, and have the only two ISI-certified Verifiers in Texas authorized to verify projects submitted for certification (myself and Mikel Wilkins). ISI selected professionals for the first verification class that were considered experts in various fields related to sustainable communities and infrastructure, and who had already completed certification as Envision Sustainable Professionals (ENV-SPs). As verifiers, we are charged with understanding the guts of Envision better than most, but we are also able to rely on the network of other verifiers who have their own specialized expertise and perspectives from different parts of the world. It's a great resource for us.

Here at VERDUNITY, our take on Envision is a bit different than most, though. We are not fans of using Envision or any other system just to get points and plaques. Incorporating Envision into project design efforts and submitting them for certification has its merits, but we believe the real value of Envision is in using it as a framework for community planning, project prioritization and most importantly, stakeholder communication and collaboration. I like to describe Envision as a "common language" that can be used to bring engineers, planners, developers, elected officials, citizens and businesses together. Plenty of professionals and firms have jumped on the ISI/Envision bandwagon, but while they're cracking open the manuals or logging into the website for the first time, we've been speaking to various groups around the state on the benefits of Envision and ISI participation, and developing a  process and tools that incorporate Envision into community planning, project prioritization, scoping and design. We have partnered with Impact Infrastructure to do pilot testing with an economic companion tool for Envision called the Business Case Evaluator (BCE), and are now working on beta tests for AutoCASE, a more advanced version of the tool that runs within AutoCAD and Civil3D. The economic assessment we recently completed as part of a LID Alternative Study for the Panther Island Development with the Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA) in Fort Worth was the first application of the BCE ever, and received great feedback from TRVA leaders and staff from the City of Fort Worth. Mikel will be writing more about that project and efforts we have ongoing to share the process with other interested agencies in north Texas.  

Finally, we also see an opportunity for Envision to be incorporated into academia so that students coming out of engineering and architectural programs have a broader and deeper understanding of how to design fiscally and environmentally resilient places. Mikel and I met with staff from Southern Methodist University last month to discuss details for some guest lectures in the fall and ideas for incorporating Envision into the future curriculum for SMU's engineering and architecture students. We're very excited about where our partnership with SMU is headed.

Our advice is to not view Envision as just another rating system that wants your agencies' money in return for a plaque. Envision is much more powerful and valuable than LEED, INVEST, Sustainable Sites or any of the other systems out there, because it was intentionally developed to be an overarching framework that pulls pieces of these different aspects together with the broad goal of creating more sustainable places and resilient infrastructure. If you're a city or organization looking for more transparency and holistic thinking in regards to how you plan, prioritize and design places and projects, or want to be able to communicate the full benefits of a project to stakeholders of all types, give us a call. Our Envision-based processes can help you get there.