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An innovative infrastructure sustainability rating system


         Infrastructure projects have to be carefully prepared because they have lasting impacts on our future. Infrastructure, like highways and bridges, are designed to last a long time – from 20 to 80 years. Because of the longevity of these structures each decision has to be considered and each project has to include sound sustainability practices. The problem is that for infrastructure projects outside of buildings, no systems have been developed to measure sustainability yet. Construction of buildings has the LEED rating system, however no such system existed for infrastructures.

        The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, ISI, was created in 2011 by three members: the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the American Public Works Association (APWA). The main motivation was to found an institute that could promote the evolution of sustainability principles and practices in the engineering infrastructure field. The ISI strives to be a useful institute that policymakers, regulators, owners, agencies, engineers and many others can consult to have sustainable infrastructure solutions.

The ISI is using a new infrastructure sustainability rating system: envision, Version 1.0. This system is designed to rate infrastructure projects. Envision uses a sustainability approach that includes social, economic and environmental impacts. Envision will be a guide for owners or communities if they want to plan or implement infrastructure solutions.

The envision system has 4 planned stages or project reviews. For now, the ISI is receiving public comments on its website on the first two stages through the end of 2011.

 Stage 1 is a self-guided evaluation process. The user has to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a series of questions that guide the user through criteria. There are 10 primary criteria and 74 secondary criteria. They deal with the sustainable performance of smaller or single-purpose projects.  The main goal of this stage is to give the user a basic understanding of sustainability.

The user earns one or zero points depending on the answer to the questions. The maximum score for the Stage 1 assessment system is 104 points.

 The table below summarizes the 10 primary criteria for project review and their weight in total stage 2 score. 

Primary criteria

Weight %



Project strategy and management


Community : long- and –short- term effects


Land use and restoration




Ecology and biodiversity


Water resources and environment


Energy and carbon


Resource management including waste






  Stage 2 provides a comprehensive assessment and recognition framework. This system allows an owner, engineer or other user to perform an assessment and to look for areas to improve or acknowledge the sustainable performance of a project. Stage 2 uses the same primary and secondary criteria as the Stage 1. The difference between these two stages is that Stage 2 awards points based on a weighted scale with a wider scoring range. This range recognizes higher levels of achievements that include improved, enhanced, superior, conserving and restorative. This rating system provides the users guidance documents as well to help them find the most applicable level of achievement for the project. The maximum score for Stage 2 is 1,000 points.

Stage 3 will more narrowly evaluate existing specific projects.

Stage 4 will focus on complex projects to determine optimum solutions, return investment and project delivery by balancing project features tradeoffs.

The ISI expects Stages 1 and 2 to be available for use on projects for the spring of 2012 and Stages 3 and 4 to become available after 2013. 


Professional assessors have to follow a specific training provided by the ISI to learn how to use the envision system. Then they have to pass an exam to be able to perform assessment of Stage 2 projects.

The ISI will also collaborate with professional verifiers to review and confirm representations from owners and engineers. The ISI does not know yet how much it will cost to have projects verified but it will depend on project size and complexity and it will probably cost from $2,500 to $25,000.

        The envision system aims at being the North American ‘system of choice’ to rate the sustainability of infrastructure. Envision has plans for the future such as creating a formal awards system to award the projects with the highest level of sustainability as rated by the tool.   


If you have any question about sustainability rating systems, please contact John McAllister at or at (508) 747 - 7900 x 117.

 Information in this article taken from Sept 2011, article by Terry F.Neimeyer,published in

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