The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) is a non-profit organization that has risen up through a joint effort by the American Council for Engineering Companies (ACEC), American Public Works Association (APWA) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The ISI has developed a rating system called Envision™ which according to ISI is “a comprehensive and workable rating system that will help project owners, designers and constructors make better management and investment decisions.”
If you are involved in civil infrastructure projects at the local and municipal level, you will probably agree that more can be done to consider the social, environmental and economic aspects of these projects beyond the limits of work. How will a new light affect the local neighbors? How will a new sidewalk affect local businesses? What economic benefit does a new sewer main have beyond the construction contract?
Often times design teams forget that the projects we are designing and constructing will likely last into the next century and the future impacts could be significant in a positive or negative way. The rating system consists of five sections to review the potential impacts on: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk. The ISI intends to offer this rating system in four stages with the first two, self-assessment and third party verification currently available for comment and trial.
It remains to be seen whether the Envision rating system will rise to the status and stature of the LEED system. The built environment under the LEED umbrella is largely privately financed resulting in a “voluntary” evaluation system. In contrast, horizontal infrastructure projects are mostly funded by federal, state and local budgets and if these funding agencies require an Envision evaluation for sustainability in their RFP, the Envision evaluation process could become mandatory for civil infrastructure projects.
What are your thoughts about sustainability evaluations for infrastructure projects?
The previous blog posts discussed the importance of corporate water footprinting from the environmental, business, and sustainability perspectives. But what is measured and how?
Businesses consider three different water types: blue, green, and grey. Blue water is measure of freshwater from surface or ground water. Green water is a measure of rainwater stored in the soil as soil moisture. Grey water is polluted water associated with production.
The corporate water footprint also considers the abundance of the local supply, as well as the water quality. Given the water types, using more water isn’t always “bad.” Producing agriculture in an area with plentiful Blue water is less of a problem than producing the same crop using scarce groundwater supplies.
There are several online tools available to assist companies in reporting their water usage. Some examples are:
The Carbon Disclosure Project
The Water Footprint Network’s “water footprint”
Life Cycle Assessment
World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Global Water Tool
Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) Water Sustainability Planner/Tool
Unlike a fine wine, our nation’s infrastructure is not improving with age! This is made perfectly clear by a recent American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE ) report  that issued grades of D- for both our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructures . I don’t know about you, but if I brought home a grade of D- when I was going to school, that was the same as an F as far as my parents were concerned. Not only that, but a D- meant that I had better get my act together and focus on my studies or I would be in big trouble. Unfortunately, the D- grade from ASCE doesn’t seem to be having the same effect with regard to federal funding for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements. In fact, a follow-up report by ASCE  released in 2011 indicates that these near failing grades are further threatened by a significant funding gap of $54 billion in 2010, which is projected to grow to a gap of over $84 billion by 2020.
Failing local infrastructures with a lack of federal funding means that local governments will need to foot more of the bill just to keep its systems running at a D- grade. Municipalities and purveyors will be looking to residential users to front a portion of the bill, but you can pretty much bet that they will be looking to the industrial users to pay a majority of the bill.
Water and wastewater are very complicated issues that involve entire regions, complicated rate structures, conservation, capital improvements, water rights, and water fights. Not to mention that the general public has a lack of appreciation for the most valuable and essential commodity on the face of the earth.
The issue of rising water and wastewater rates is just beginning. It behooves all industrial users of water to implement a water policy and aggressive water conservation practices to stay ahead of this issue. The less you and your supply chain rely on the public water and wastewater infrastructure, the more resilient your manufacturing operations will be.
 “2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure”, ASCE, 2009.
 “Failure to Act, The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends I Water and Wastewater Treatment Infrastructure”, ASCE, 2011
As we mentioned in our previous blog, water is both a local and global issue and must become a major priority in any sustainable organization. The water scarcity issue is addressed in The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which concentrates on reversing poverty, hunger, and disease internationally. Goal 7 of the MDG aims to “Ensure Environmental Sustainability” and includes a specific target to “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” The UN states that this target will not be met.
In a recent news article from the American Geophysical Union, the President of the Pacific Institute, Peter Gleick, addresses the status of the world’s water. Regarding falling short on the MDG for water, Gleik blames a lack of priority, not technology. He suggests an integrated approach for water issues, similar to energy and climate change issues. To accomplish this, it is necessary to understand “where the water is and where the water goes.”
A joint mission between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, entitled the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), involves two satellites that have been taking monthly images of groundwater since 2002. In ScienceNews (January 2012), Leonard Konikow stated, “There are too many areas in the world where groundwater development far exceeds a sustainable level. Something will have to change.” That change can begin with corporate water footprinting, and identifying the water stressed areas both up and down the supply chain.