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Guest Article: Resilience and the Envision Sustainable Infrastructure Rating System

December 10, 2019

Guest Article by Anthony Kane, ISI - Resilience is a key component of sustainability where as an industry we have made significant advancements in recent years. In 2015 when the decision was made to begin work on a new version of Envision—the sustainable infrastructure framework—the primary driver was the industry’s expanding and evolving understanding of resilience. In April 2018, after three years of development, the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure released Envision v3 with a significantly expanded focus on how infrastructure should address both short-term shocks (hurricanes, wildfires, etc.) and long-term stressors (sea level rise, aging infrastructure, aging populations, etc.).

Envision is a framework and rating system that provides the guidance needed to initiate the necessary systemic change in the planning, design and delivery of sustainable and resilient infrastructure. Envision includes industry-wide sustainability metrics for all types and sizes of infrastructure to help users assess and measure the extent to which their project contributes to conditions of sustainability across the full range of social, economic, and environmental indicators. It was therefore critical that as the body of knowledge and experience around resilience grew, Envision should grow with it.

Part of our growth in understanding resilience has been to better recognize the complex interdependencies of infrastructure systems with each other as well as with non-physical systems such as economic, socio-demographic, and governance systems. Resilience is now understood to be more than a physical asset resisting or recovering from the direct impacts of climate change. It is how the community, and its interrelated systems, adapt and recover from a wide range of shocks and stressors. Climate change is still a critical factor that threatens to exacerbate many of these shocks and stressors. However, just as we must build for the climate of the future we must recognize that all aspects of a community are changing and evolving. This includes population growth/decline, economic growth/decline, aging populations, environmental degradation, etc. We must create a complete picture of the future of our communities and build infrastructure that will provide services under these dynamic socioeconomic and environmental conditions.

To create this picture, and to deliver resilient projects requires a wide range of inputs. The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure has seen some of the greatest success in implementing resilience using Envision when early input is solicited from stakeholders across the entire lifecycle of the project including planners, designers, operators, and contractors. Each brings experience and solutions on a variety of challenges that can often make the difference between success and failure.

With all of these issues in mind Envision v3 took a process approach to revising its resilience indicators focusing on how project teams should analyze and approach the complex challenge of being resilient. These six credits include:

CR2.1 Avoid Unsuitable Development
CR2.2 Assess Climate Change Vulnerability
CR2.3 Evaluate Risk and Resilience
CR2.4 Establish Resilience Goals and Strategize
CR2.5 Maximize Resilience
CR2.6 Improve Infrastructure Integration

Avoid Unsuitable Development

Project teams often find themselves in the position of building solutions to project or site challenges that could have been avoided if more opportunities had been explored, or if resilience had been a factor during project identification and siting. This credit is about avoiding risks in the first place through better project placement.

Assess Climate Change Vulnerability

Climate change is a multiplier on many existing shocks and stressors including hotter heat waves, longer droughts, wetter storms, and higher storm surges. However, it is the secondary and tertiary impacts that are often overlooked. An inland manufacturer might not consider sea level rise a threat, but it is to the seaports needed to ship its products. We have already seen examples where droughts have led to political destabilization, increasing refugee migrations that are a serious stressor to receiving communities. Project teams must think beyond the limits of direct climate impacts and understand the complex system of dependencies connected to their project.

Evaluate Risk and Resilience

We can’t build for what we don’t know. It is a critical step to take the time to evaluate all the possible risks facing a project. As already identified, these go far beyond direct impacts. Therefore this step is more than just checking a box. Serious consideration and mapping of the interdependencies of the project with support and service systems is critical.

Establish Resilience Goals and Strategize

This credit is about more than just visualizing success. Where resilience planning and construction can fall short is when project teams take a limited view. A light rail station that can continue to operate during a storm event is of no value if the tracks before and after are closed. So its important to understand from the broadest audience possible what are the real goals of the project and how are they going to be achieved.

Maximize Resilience

This credit is about implementation. Resilience can often be a lofty project goal that gets lost in the day-to-day decisions around project delivery. Even more, it may be years after project delivery before the conditions occur that require utilizing the resilience strategies. This credit looks at whether the project team implemented the resilience strategies as well as developed the knowledge- and skill-sharing needed for those strategies to be successful during operations.

Improve Infrastructure Integration

Single points of failure are a weakness. In addition, silo systems are often inefficient. Multi-benefit projects that integrate multiple infrastructure services can be more redundant, robust, and efficient. At the same time, interrelatedness can create complexity that must be addressed. Project teams should be careful to create diverse and resilient systems without creating pathways for cascading failures.

The final overarching success factor for resilience is the scope of consideration. Project teams are understandably focused on their project. However, as mentioned, the resilience of a single project in a compromised system is of limited value. Envision incentivizes project teams to think beyond the limits of the project to evaluate the resilience of the project in the context of the infrastructure system, the networks of systems (e.g., water, transportation, energy), as well as the entire community. This is because ultimately community resilience is the highest goal we can aim for; to ensure people are protected, provided necessary services, and reassured that they live in a place prepared for whatever the future brings. Achieving this will require a concerted effort from all corners, but at the center will be the designers and contractors responsible for delivering on these goals.

To learn more about ISI and Envision visit our website at www.sustainableinfrastructure.org or create a free account (https://v3.sustainableinfrastructure.org/site/signup) to download a copy of the complete Envision guidance manual at no cost.

*AGC of America thanks our guest writer for contributing this article on resilience featured in AGC’s Environmental Observer newsletter.  AGC’s staff person on resilience and sustainability issues is Melinda Tomaino at tomainom@agc.org.*

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