How to Envision Green Infrastructure’s Triple Bottom Line
By now, chances are you’ve heard of the LEED rating system. It’s a popular tool for measuring the “greenness” of a building or neighborhood.
But what it doesn’t cover is the connective tissue—the infrastructure for energy, water, waste, transportation, recreation, and information technology—that breathes life into our communities.
A recent Engineering News Record article describes how, in just a few years since its 2012 launch, the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s Envision Rating System has quickly become the LEED equivalent for infrastructure professionals.
Engineering giants like Stantec and Skanska are promoting Envision with clients early on and attributing multi-billion-dollar project wins to their own Envision expertise. They’re also supporting programs to help employees earn their credentials.
Envision rates sustainability through a comprehensive assessment, awarding projects points for approaches to “resource use, operational resilience, ecosystem restoration, life-cycle costs, and return on investment.” It’s highly flexible and covers a broad spectrum of project types.
Unlike LEED, which maintains a complementary rating tool for operations and maintenance, Envision today only awards projects for design and planning.
Going Beyond ROI with the Triple Bottom Line
Envision’s metrics are being refined to measure return on investment that encompasses a project’s financial, social and environmental impacts—referred to as the triple bottom line.
Last month the APWA Reporter ran an article called “Monetizing the triple bottom line”. The author, Steph Larocque from Impact Infrastructure explains how economists can convert the qualitative benefits of sustainable project like high performance buildings, green stormwater infrastructure, or renewable energy. Without this fuller picture of the total value of benefits to society, these sustainable infrastructure projects—often with higher first costs—won’t get built as much.
But how do you put a dollar figure on things like greater recreational opportunities, reduced flood risk, or improved health and safety?
Sustainable Return on Investment is a cost-benefit analysis framework that’s been rapidly gaining traction for quantifying these kinds of non-cash benefits. It helps public agencies direct limited budgets towards cost-effective projects that create the most public value. And it does it in a way so that government leaders can explain these benefits clearly to a broad set of stakeholders, including owners, occupants, or the general public.
Putting a Price on Quality of Life
The City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department used this approach to help convey the public benefits of a parks and trail system.
This value of these parks are usually quantified in terms of “level of service” provided to communities. But that metric misses something: how the parks enhance citizens’ lives (increased recreational opportunities), are good for the economy (higher real estate values), and mitigate the ills of urbanization (improved air and water quality).
In order for future projects to compete with other higher priority projects like roads and bridges, this value had to come through in some way.
VERDUNDITY and HR&A were contracted to show this value, and they chose Impact Infrastructure’s cloud-based Autocase software to to help put dollar figures on the benefits that improve citizens’ quality of life. Autocase uses a triple bottom line valuation technique that helps make the business case for infrastructure projects.
With the Autocase green infrastructure module, VERDUNTIY and HR&A were able to communicate–in dollars–the full value the parks provide.
Tags: autocase, civil3d, envision, green infrastructure, triple bottom line
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