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3 Ways the Envision Rating System Leads to resilient projects

I’ve seen firsthand how Envision is helping communities address their growing need for environmental, social, and economic resilience

By Melissa Peneycad 

It’s hard to have a conversation with a client without resilience being one of the prime themes. Municipal engineers, planners, and political leaders are being pushed to create resilient communities. With corporate clients, resilience is a prominent aspect of corporate sustainability planning and enterprise risk management, especially in the context of climate-change-related impacts and risks. And industrial clients are facing many operational and business risks related to resilience.

The question isn’t that clients need to develop resilient infrastructure and communities—clearly they do. The question is how best to go about it. Resilience can be hard to achieve because it can mean different things to different people and because project stakeholders may have different, sometimes competing, priorities around resilience.

That’s where the Envision® Sustainable Infrastructure Rating System can help. 

So how can Envision help?
From my perspective—and many of my colleagues who have applied the framework on real-world projects agree—Envision addresses resilience in a number of ways. Using the Grand Bend Area Wastewater Treatment Facility as an example—the first Envision-certified project in Canada and first project of its kind to receive Envision certification in the world—we’ll look at three ways the framework provided the project team with ways to systematically bake resilience in.

  1. Envision emphasizes the importance of stakeholder outreach and building an engaged constituency.
    Through a process of stakeholder identification, characterization, and outreach, the project team learned that Grand Bend, Ontario, residents had concerns about their proposed new sewage treatment facility. Budget, odor control, construction noise, and beach water quality topped the list. Their concerns influenced design decisions. For example, construction traffic was routed away from residential areas and the odor control system removes 99% of hydrogen sulfide when operated.
    By providing opportunities for meaningful stakeholder involvement, the project team got environmental and educational organizations involved in the project. Local organizations will be involved in the ongoing restoration and maintenance of natural features on the site. And programs aimed at educating students about the site’s natural features will be developed and delivered by local schools and conservation authorities.
  2. Envision emphasizes the importance of collaboration and teamwork.
    The project team incorporated the principles of collaboration, teamwork, and whole systems design throughout the project. Representatives from a range of disciplines—including electrical, mechanical, structural, landscape, environmental, and contract administration—came together during key design sessions and value engineering workshops to identify opportunities for improving the facility’s resilience. A number of design features were included that may have otherwise been overlooked had the design team operated in traditional discipline-based silos. For example:
    Flexible design: the incorporation of technologies to allow the circular tanks used to treat wastewater to function optimally when they are full in the summer during peak tourist season, and when the inflow is much lower during the fall and winter months.
    Adaptable design: the plant can be expanded and retrofitted in phases depending on the future needs of the community.
  3. Envision encourages project teams to design infrastructure systems to withstand short-term hazards and be resilient to the consequences of long-term climate change.
    The project team developed some unique approaches to address climate risk. When rainfall is extreme, extra flow can be stored in adjacent lagoons for later treatment. This prevents sewage from discharging into the downstream aquatic environment and addresses community concerns about beach water quality. These lagoons, a constructed wetland, and a trail system also serve as a community amenity. They provide recreational and educational opportunities for school groups, residents, and tourists, thereby enhancing community quality of life.

Having had several opportunities to apply Envision on real-world projects, the framework has proven that it can lead to more sustainable, resilient infrastructure projects. I have every reason to believe that it can foster the dramatic and necessary shift we need in how we plan and design infrastructure systems.

The question isn’t that clients need to develop resilient infrastructure and communities. The question is how best to go about it.

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