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Sustainable, resilient infrastructure: Getting from concrete to “humancrete”

Paul Zofnass, Harvard, and the origins of the Envision Sustainable Infrastructure Rating System

By Marty Janowitz, Vice President, Sustainable Development (Halifax, NS)

I find that many of my colleagues gravitate toward the architecture and engineering consulting industry because it’s more than conventionally rewarding—it’s meaningful work. I’m no different. The sphere of sustainable design called to me as a way to foster progressive social transformation by channeling my passion for the environment.

I’ve learned throughout my career that the ability to envision and address future societal needs is a major component of effective resilient design. Several years ago, the emergence of sustainable infrastructure principles signaled the start of a transformational movement in planning and engineering.

Envision: How It Began

In 2008, Paul Zofnass, an industry-leading acquisitions specialist, invited Stantec to serve on the advisory board for a new initiative he established with Harvard University called the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure. The program’s mission is to develop a holistic methodology for quantifying sustainability and to establish a widely applicable set of guidelines for infrastructure projects. Because Stantec was pursuing sustainability in our industry, we jumped at the opportunity. We could now leverage our expertise and provide the Zofnass Program with multidisciplinary guidance and infrastructure best practices. We sensed that we were on the cusp of major changes in resiliency and sustainability—and we were right. The Zofnass Program evolved into the intellectual engine behind the framework we know today as the Envision® Sustainable Infrastructure Rating System, implemented by the Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure.

Related Item: Stantec on Resilience

As the engineering and design world has grown, so has the number of rating systems—to a staggering figure totaling over 900. Yet of all the ratings systems, we still lacked a comprehensive practice that could be applied across all infrastructure asset classes: energy, utilities, water and wastewater, transportation—even information technology. Envision bridges the gap created by previous ratings systems by establishing a new common framework. Envision applies the same methodology and language, regardless of project type, and takes an integrative approach to designing a resilient project. It isn’t just about how to design a bridge and make it sustainable, but also deciding if it’s the right bridge—or if a bridge is even the right solution. 

We Have Envision. Now What?
However, designing the framework is only half the battle. The real test will be our ability to implement the Envision approach and principles as the new standard of practice. Harvard’s annual Zofnass Symposium offers industry leaders the opportunity to learn more about how Envision’s real-world applications lead to resilient projects. I am thrilled to participate in these events because they tie in to an area that Stantec believes in. Resiliency and sustainability are in our sweet spot because they call upon a multidisciplinary approach to addressing complex problems and are at the intersection of our capabilities and a significant societal need.

I’ve seen great things happen as a result of the Zofnass Symposium. We’re now aligned with groups like Harvard University Graduate School of Design, the Jonathan Rose Companies, and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that are moving toward the same set of objectives, which helps us find allies in the sustainable arena. For example:

I look forward to the continued evolution of infrastructure as industry leaders recognize that sustainability is not just about engineering and hardening our systems to make them tougher, stronger, or shock resistant. It’s also about community adaptability and building strong networks—whether they’re physical, social, or digital. What’s most moving to me is when members of a community show up for one another, deal with the shock after a disaster, and take care of each other when their systems are failing. That’s not about concrete—it’s about “humancrete.” That’s what drives me.

Marty leads Stantec’s Sustainability Practice and has been involved in the Zofnass program since its inception in 2008.

Low Level Road is the first transportation project ever to be awarded the Envision Platinum Award for Sustainable Infrastructure.

Transcript of the video follows
skip transcript
<p><b>Overset- ENVISION- City of North Vancouver, BC - 2015</b></p> <p><b>Voice over- Narrator:<br> </b>“Port Metro Vancouver’s Low Level Road is the recipient of the Envision Platinum Award for Sustainable Infrastructure.”</p> <p><b>Voiceover</b>- Bill Bertera, President and CEO, ISI – Washington, DC</p> <p>“Envision is a very powerful planning tool, because it helps us think about not just what makes a project work, what makes it economical, what makes it function,&nbsp; but it helps us think about sustainability at every point of the project.”</p> <p><b>Voiceover</b>- Kip Skabar, Assistant Design Manager - Vancouver, British Columbia</p> <p>“At Stantec we always design with community in mind and this project really demonstrates that in every aspect. We addressed several different disciplines of engineering challenges as well as enhancing safety and increasing mobility. The existing Low Level Road alignment had vehicles, bicycles and railway all within a few feet of each other so we were able to tackle that challenge by separating the grades and having rail and vehicles and bicycles at different elevations with the community above that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;“The first challenge was really about trying to demonstrate to the community the technical justification from a safety standpoint as well as the community benefit.”</p> <p><b>Voiceover</b>- Bill Bertera, President and CEO, ISI – Washington, DC</p> <p>“Without the support of the community, the allocation of the scarce resources necessary to make a project like this doesn’t materialize. If they’re not with you, there’s no project. And that’s why the Envision tool is such a help mate to public officials and public administrators because it helps them talk about complicated issues to voters, rate payers, tax payers, citizens in terms that they can understand and once they understand it helps them to make better decisions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;<b>Voiceover</b>- Lourette Swanepeol – Envision Facilitator</p> <p>“Right now for Stantec, Envision is something we hope to do just as standard practice.&nbsp; Envision is just another tool in our pockets to help our design teams and our engineers to think about what they do that goes beyond just building a project for maximum operational benefit.&nbsp; There’s all these other components about community, environment, long term thinking, that we have to start considering.&nbsp; A framework like Envision just becomes that go-to checklist that makes the job a little bit easier. ”</p> <p><b>Voiceover</b>- Kip Skabar, Assistant Design Manager - Vancouver, British Columbia</p> <p>&nbsp;“It took a lot of dedication and many hours of service from Engineers, Environmental Scientists, Landscape Architects, essentially a very powerhouse dream team that came together to make this project a huge success. ”</p> <p><b>Voiceover</b>- Lourette Swanepeol – Envision Facilitator</p> <p>&nbsp;“It’s wonderful to see that, you know, it’s a project that doesn’t do just its base engineering design; that it can have all these other layers of benefit.”</p> <p><b>Voiceover</b>- Bill Bertera, President and CEO, ISI – Washington, DC</p> <p>&nbsp;“And it’s a wonderful project for just that reason.”</p>

Sustainability is not just about engineering and hardening our systems to make them tougher, stronger, or shock resistant

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