By Nicole DeNamur, Esq., Owner, Sustainable Strategies
February 7, 2024
Infrastructure projects – including how they are planned, designed, constructed, and managed – have significant, global climate impacts. This challenge also presents opportunities for improvement and leadership from contractors, architects, engineers, and related industries.
Frameworks to support more sustainable infrastructure
There are an increasing number of frameworks and tools to support more sustainable infrastructure projects. Two examples are Envision for Sustainable Infrastructure (Envision) and the various Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) Assessments.
These are different tools that serve different functions. Envision is perhaps most comparable to other sustainability frameworks (including LEED) but specific to civil infrastructure. And GRESB develops assessments and benchmarking tools that, among other things, support investors in their decision-making process.
Envision is an infrastructure-specific framework developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). According to ISI, Envision, “encourages systemic changes in the planning, design, and delivery of sustainable, resilient, and equitable civil infrastructure through education, training, and third-party project verification.” Envision has a relatively broad and holistic focus, and includes strategies that address environmental, social and economic factors.
Given the unique nature and scale of infrastructure projects, Envision is designed to be a relatively flexible framework. The current iteration (as of early 2024), is centered around five general categories: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate Resilience. Within these five categories are 64 total “sustainability and resilience indicators,” or credits. Each credit outlines the associated points and contains useful information on the Intent, Metric, and Levels of Achievement (performance goals ranging from Improved to Restorative) that form the basis of the credit.
A key aspect of Envision is that each credit also contains evaluation criteria and documentation guidance, and cross references other, related credits. This information can help project teams understand the meaning and purpose behind each credit, and it also provides the opportunity to work through questions and prompts. These questions and prompts can spark conversations, educational opportunities, or new ideas.
Envision can be used as a self-assessment tool, guiding project teams on their journey, or projects can pursue an optional, third-party verification process, which results in public recognition and other benefits.
Envision is also complemented by the Envision Sustainability Professional (ENV SP) credential. Similar to a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP), the ENV SP credential demonstrates that a practitioner has completed the required training, passed a 75-question, multiple choice exam, and has the skills to support more sustainable infrastructure practices.
An additional, infrastructure-specific tool is the GRESB Infrastructure Asset Assessment. The Infrastructure Asset Assessment focuses on operational assets and has been around for several years. The Asset Assessment evaluates “ESG performance at the asset level for infrastructure asset operators, fund managers and investors that invest directly in infrastructure” and “offers high-quality ESG data and advanced analytical tools to benchmark ESG performance, identify areas for improvement and engage with investors.”
The Infrastructure Asset Assessment consists of two Components: Management and Performance. Each Component contains various aspects, which relate to common ESG themes and metrics.
Management: Leadership, Policies, Reporting, Risk Management, and Stakeholder Engagement.
Performance: Implementation, Output & Impact, Health & Safety, Energy, GHG Emissions, Air Pollution, Water, Waste, Biodiversity & Habitat, Employees, Customers, Certifications & Awards.
Entities choosing to participate in the Assessment will self-report the necessary metrics. This data will first go through a validation process, and then it will be scored and benchmarked against peer assets.
In addition to the Infrastructure Asset Assessment, GRESB develops and maintains various assessments, including the Real Estate Assessment, Infrastructure Fund Assessment, and the Infrastructure Development Assessment. Launched in 2024, the Development assessment was specifically designed for pre-operational assets.
Why are these frameworks important?
Frameworks, guidelines, and related tools have been an integral part of sustainable design, construction, and development for decades. The growing number and availability of these tools demonstrates that owners and investors are increasingly seeking reliable metrics to assess and value sustainable, resilient projects – including infrastructure projects. This trend is also a clear market signal that Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) e factors will continue to play a key role across industries, in 2024 and beyond!
Nicole DeNamur is an attorney and sustainability consultant, based in Seattle, WA. Her company, Sustainable Strategies, helps clients identify and manage the risks of sustainable innovation so they can pursue robust sustainability goals. She is also an award-winning contributing author and has developed and taught graduate-level courses at the University of Washington and Boston Architectural College. Nicole was named Educator of the Year by the International WELL Building Institute, and Sustainable Strategies hosts an online course, Accelerated WELL AP Exam Prep.
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AIA Contract Documents has provided this article for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. This article is also not intended to provide guidance as to how project parties should interpret their specific contracts or resolve contract disputes, as those decisions will need to be made in consultation with legal counsel, insurance counsel, and other professionals, and based upon a multitude of factors.